By Thomas Scott
In January 2010, a deadly earthquake hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti, taking the lives of 316,000 of the country’s people. Out of the enormous wreckage and loss of life emerged support from the international community.
In a piece for Newsweek shortly after the quake, President Barack Obama wrote that the American people were “moved by the heartbreaking images of the devastation” and that he had “ordered a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives in Haiti,” including more than a billion dollars in aid to the beleaguered country.
His actions were echoed by a massive mobilization of resources by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Yet more than two years after the catastrophe, many Haitians are still homeless and cholera is still prevalent.
Recently, it was reported that the historic presidential palace in Port-au-Prince is finally being torn down after being deemed uninhabitable by the government since the quake.
It is Sean Penn’s NGO, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, not government authorities, that have begun removing parts of the structure with primarily Haitian workers.
Such a paradigm is endemic of Haiti’s current political and economic situation, where the nation’s people and even its fledgling leadership are dependent on the outside resources of NGOs to accomplish much of anything.
Yet for all of the monetary aid, roughly $4.6 billion, which was levied in order to raise the nation from its post-quake predicament, surprisingly little of it has made its way to those directly affected. As of January, more than half a million of the country’s 10.1 million inhabitants remain without a home.
“It’s just unfortunate. You would think the relief effort is an opportunity for the rest of the world to rally around a poor nation and help out,” remarked Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez.
According to the Miami Herald, Haitian landlords increased rent on buildings used by NGOs to over $7,000. Funds also went towards the use of SUVs, which could cost more than $3,500.
The Herald also reported that Save the Children’s financial director earns more than $200,000 each year.
Yet only 43 percent of the funds garnered from donations via texting, pledge campaigns and the like have been distributed.
According to the Huffington Post, a lion’s share of funds went to “board members’ needs, overpriced supplies and imported personnel,” not the Haitian people at large.
Benitez, who in 2010 was the advisor for the Black and Latino student allianc” at Schenectady County Community College, says that the group “immediately put together a step/dance show” to raise money for the Haiti relief effort.
The event raised upwards of $1,300 according to Benitez.
The four-figure donation was then doubled by University at Albany’s own Haiti relief fund. Across the U.S., large donations sprung up in response to the heart wrenching disaster.
Yet even as tropical storm Isaac bore down on Haiti in late August, hundreds of thousands of Haitians still lived in makeshift tents, making them ever more susceptible to the wrath of the storm.
But according to Haiti Libre, the government plans to purchase 1,000 goats and distribute them to 500 people in the northwest of the country, who will then be trained on how to take care of the animals.
But some of the country’s governing officials have also been focused on legal matters in the United States.
Haiti’s prime minister filed a lawsuit against Brooklyn-based newspaper Haiti-Observateur for allegedly slanderous and damaging reporting regarding the sale of Haitel, a Haitian telecom company that went belly-up because it could not reconcile its debts to the Haitian government.
Still, many NGOs are packing up their operations, while focusing on constructing more robust temporary housing, building roads and repairing schools.
But concerned observers such as Benitez are led to the questions: if “a natural disaster occurred in a more affluent nation, would the organization of the relief effort’s funds have been any different?” and “if the fact that Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere before the earthquake had anything to do with how the relief effort was handled?”