Hope for Haiti?

This week USAID, the federal agency spearheading the US Government’s efforts in Haiti, released an updated report highlighting its current efforts in the Caribbean nation.  If nothing else, the report only seems to underscore the monumental task that remains ahead in rebuilding the country and lives of the earthquake’s survivors.  According to the most recent report from the Government of Haiti, more than 230,000 were killed in the earthquake. Currently, there are 700,000 displaced in the Port-Au-Prince area while another 597,000 have since left the capital region and migrated to other parts of the nation.

Unfortunately, damage estimates continue to rise. The Inter-American Development Bank calculates the rebuilding costs between $8 billion – $14 billion. To put this into perspective, the nonprofit community in the United States has raised close to $800 million dollars from generous donors while the US Government has already spent $538 million in the region.  Both are significant sums, but still fall far short of what will be required in the days ahead.

While many nonprofits are finding that it is obviously more challenging to fundraise now as opposed to the days immediately following the earthquake, they are still running ads and sending out emails and letters to continue to draw donor interest in the important work that remains to be done. Fortunately, many nonprofits have also learned from previous experiences in providing aid following a major natural disaster.  These groups have been measured in their spending – avoiding corruption and waste by not spending more than can be immediately be absorbed on the ground. For those of us who were on the ground in Asia following the tsunamis of 2004, there was ample evidence of the waste that occurs when groups rush in to provide aid without thought or strategy.

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the American Red Cross committed $80 million of the $276 million it has raised for immediate needs. Likewise, Oxfam donated $18 million to immediate relief efforts and anticipates spending approximately 20% of the $100 million it has raised each year for the next five years.

Another interesting approach has come from a UK affiliate of SOS Children’s Villages.  The group has pledged not to spend any of the funds it raises for Haiti on administrative work. This pledge includes not spending any of its donations on advertising, fundraising, advocacy, or any other administrative function in the UK except for the purchase of goods to be directly sent to Haiti.  While the organization notes that US based charities can make an argument that the US “is a plausible base for project-related Haiti activity,” nonprofits based in the UK have a much harder time making that argument. That being the case, the organization is encouraging its British counterparts to join its efforts by signing an online pledge.

Overall, there is still much to do to help the people of Haiti begin to recover from this disaster.  It will take the continued support of the international community as well as the generosity from countless of private donors in the US and around the world.  Only in the months ahead will we really begin to know if there is hope for Haiti.

-Christopher Lindsay

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