Haitians cry: Show me the money

Six months after quake, survivors still living in squalid camps as aid workers' SUVs zip by.

    On any given day in Port au Prince you'll see lots of international aid workers whizzing around the city in big SUVs.

    In the evenings, groups of foreign workers often gather in the city's bars and restaurants to relax after work.

    Haitians know perfectly well that billions of dollars in aid have been promised to help their country recover from the catastrophic earthquake of January 12th.

    So, watching the foreign workers go to and fro, they often wonder exactly what the money is being spent on.

    We asked a few of the more than one and a half million Haitians living in tent camps what they thought. Within a minute or two we had struck up conversations with several people. Then a crowd gathered, and women began loudly wailing and throwing their hands in the air.

    Emaneze Lima was one of them. "We don't know what they are spending the money on because they don't visit us to ask us what we need," she said angrily. "We only know that the money isn't coming to us."

    Jean Francois Pepe was even more suspicious of the aid community.
    "They spend the money on themselves, not on us," he said "We've been here since January 12th, and nothing comes to us."

    Certainly the international workers who have come to Haiti are genuinely motivated by a desire to help the desperately poor country rebuild.

    It's unfair, even preposterous, to suggest that they are here to enrich themselves.

    Yet a perception exists, says Marilyn Allein, the Haiti representative of the anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency International, that the aid agencies' activity is "much ado about nothing".

    Haitians "see these luxury cars going by with the air conditioning on", she said, "and they see lots of foreigners, but they don't see much yet in terms of results".

    Non-governmental organisations and UN agencies say they are working hard to help Haiti recover, and keeping overhead costs to a minimum.

    Nigel Fisher, the UN assistant secretary general helping to oversee the aid effort, told my colleague Lucia Newman: "We are trying to be as efficient as we can, but people have to get on planes, they have to travel around."

    The UN also says wealthy countries have been slow to fulfil their pledges of billions of dollars in aid.

    Much of the money that has been collected by big charities and NGOs hasn't been spent.

    According the Chronicle of Philanthropy, US charities alone raised $1.3bn to help Haiti. But the percentage of money spent in the past six months is often surprisingly low.

    Two of the biggest fund-raisers were Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the American Red Cross

    The Chronicle says CRS has spent only 22 per cent of the $140m it raised while the Red Cross reports it has spent just over 30 per cent of $486m in donations.

    These explanations don't satisfy homeless, hungry earthquake survivors.

    For six months people here have been told that help is on the way. Now they are frustrated, and increasingly angry. They want to know why, with all the money promised to help Haiti, they still have to live in squalor.

    Haiti has a history of violent civil unrest when conditions become unbearable. So far, protests have been largely peaceful. Community organiser Laurent Sheineider isn't sure how long that will last.

    "People feel like they've been neglected and they've been abused and used," he told me. "They think that most of those people [the foreign aid workers] just keep those monies, staying in fancy cars and going to beaches and clubs... they don't give enough, not even the little piece to those really in need. They're willing to fight."

    The more time passes without significant improvements, the greater the frustration grows.


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