US cash eschewing Haiti’s government

Nonprofits handle the bulk of aid, AP review finds

By Yesica Fisch and Martha Mendoza
Associated Press / January 28, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Less than a penny of each dollar the United States is spending on earthquake relief in Haiti is going in the form of cash to the Haitian government, according to an Associated Press review of relief efforts.

Two weeks after President Obama announced an initial $100 million for Haiti earthquake relief, US government spending on the disaster has nearly quadrupled to $379 million, the US Agency for International Development announced yesterday. That’s about $1.25 each from everyone in the United States.

Each American dollar roughly breaks down like this: 42 cents for disaster assistance, 33 cents for US military aid, nine cents for food, nine cents to transport the food, five cents for paying Haitian survivors for recovery efforts, just less than one cent to the Haitian government, and about half a cent to the Dominican Republic.

The US government money is part of close to $2 billion in relief aid flowing into Haiti - almost all of it managed by organizations other than the Haitian government, which has been struggling to reestablish its authority since the quake. Yesterday, President Rene Preval acknowledged his country’s reputation for graft, but said aid money isn’t lining the pockets of government officials.

“There’s a perception of corruption, but I would like to tell the Haitian people that the Haitian government has not seen one penny of all the money that has been raised - millions are being made on the right, millions on the left, it’s all going to the NGOs,’’ nongovernmental organizations, Preval said, said at a news conference.

Relief specialists say it would be a mistake to send too much direct cash to the Haitian government, which was already unstable before the quake and routinely included on lists of the world’s most corrupt countries.

“I really believe Americans are the most generous people who ever lived, but they want accountability,’’ said Timothy R. Knight, a former US AID assistant director who spent 25 years distributing disaster aid. “In this situation they’re being very deliberate not to just throw money at the situation but to analyze based on a clear assessment and make sure that money goes to the best place possible.’’

The AP review of federal budget spreadsheets, procurement reports, and contract databases shows the vast majority of US funds going to established and tested providers including the UN World Food Program, the Pan American Health Organization, and nonprofit groups such as Save the Children, which have sent in everything from the $3.4 million barge that cleared the port for aid deliveries to pinto beans at 40 cents a pound.

“We are trying to respond as quickly as we can to this catastrophe of biblical proportions by mustering all of the resources that the United States government can bring to bear, first on rescue leading into relief, which is where we are right now, and hopefully seamlessly into recovery,’’ said Lewis Lucke, US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction.

Major relief efforts were launched within hours of the Jan. 12 earthquake, devastated the capital of Port-au-Prince, and affected a third of the nation’s 9 million people. Behind each effort has been cash and contracts, airline tickets to be purchased, and ocean freighters to be leased.

The United States is providing the largest slice of a global response that totals more than $1 billion in government pledges. The European Union’s 27 nations are contributing $575 million.

The United States also has long been the largest donor of ongoing foreign aid, which Haiti depends on for up to 40 percent of its budget.