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Billions for Haiti, a criticism for every dollar

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says NGO aid activity too opaque. - File

A senior United Nations official said Monday that it will take up to US$11.5 billion in investment, pumped in over three years, for Haiti to fully recover from the catastrophic earthquake.

Damage wrought by the 7.2 magnitude quake was estimated at about US$7.8 billion, according to Alicia Barcena, head of the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

International leaders have already pledged US$3.8 billion over 18 months to help Haiti rebuild.

The newly created Multi-Donors Trust Fund will be administered by the government of Haiti and other donors and will be monitored by the World Bank.

There are already concerns about Haiti's ability to manage the aid flows.

"There's a problem of how to spend the money because one of the most affected areas in Haiti was the public sector," said Barcena, speaking at the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank Board of Governors, which ran from March 19-23 in Dominican Republic.

Donors also pledged an additional US$350 million to bolster Haiti's government budget for the rest of 2010.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said last Wednesday he did not have a breakdown of how much each country would donate.

Bellerive met with a group of 28 leaders and multilateral organisa-tions for two days in the Dominican Republic ahead of the IDB meeting.

The aid that is currently flowing into Haiti is feeding and sheltering some 4.3 million people, as well as providing medical care.

But international aid groups and officials readily acknowledge they are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. And cracks are already appearing in relations between Haitian officials and those delivering the aid.

Haitian leaders - frustrated that billions are bypassing them in favour of UN agencies and American and other non-governmental organisations - say foreign aid groups have gone out of control.


In the past week, someone scrawled graffiti declaring "Down with NGO thieves" along the cracked walls that line the road between Port-au-Prince's international airport, the temporary government headquarters, and a UN base.

These issues are under review ahead of a crucial March 31 post-quake donors conference in New York.

First the good news: Assistance has indeed been pouring into Haiti, sometimes from unexpected places.

An analysis of UN data shows that private donations make up the bulk of the total, accounting for more than US$980 million of what has already been delivered or that donors have promised.

The United States leads all countries with its commitments of US$713 million - with Canada, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan and the European Union among other top donors. Saudi Arabia poured US$50 million of its oil wealth into the UN Emergency Response Relief Fund.

Even countries with their own troubles rushed to Haiti's aid - Afghanistan, for example, provided US$200,000 - and corporate donors have contributed in cash and kind.

But Prime Minister Bellerive is not happy with the way the aid money is being delivered.

"The NGOs don't tell us ... where the money's coming from or how they're spending it," he told The Associated Press.

"Too many people are raising money without any controls, and don't explain what they're doing with it."

Haiti wanted aid organisations to register with the government long before the quake, a goal identified as a priority by former US President Bill Clinton when he was named UN special envoy in 2009.

But it was never completed.

The top UN official in Haiti said the country's leaders are right about being hampered by the international community over the past half-a-century.

"We complain because the government is not able to (lead), but we are partly responsible for that," said UN Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.

Worse, the patchwork of roughly 900 foreign and thousands more Haiti-based NGOs do not coordinate, take on too many roles and swarm well-known neigh-bourhoods while leaving others untouched - doing what Mulet called "little things with little impact."

UN and US officials said there is close monitoring of NGOs who receive funds.

Haiti estimates the quake killed 230,000 people - though without a civil registry or accurate means of counting, nobody really knows how many died.

More than 1.2 million lost their homes, about half of those fleeing the capital to the even harder-to-track-and-reach countryside.

Mulet said a strong plan at the New York donors' conference could help organise the response, strengthen the government and provide help for the Haitian people. But doing so will mean changing the way things have been done in Haiti for decades.

"If this shake-up was not enough to really change us nor them, then I don't know what will," he said.

- AP and CMC wire reports