Saturday will mark the three-year anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, killing thousands, and drawing billions in aid money from around the world.
Most of it never touched Haitian hands.
Instead, it went to foreign contractors charged with rebuilding the country, as well as unexplained perks for Americans like a deep-fat fryer.
Critics often point to corruption within Haiti as the reason aid money is poorly spent. Last week, for example, the Canadian International Development Agency said it was reviewing the $1 billion it has spent over the past six years and said it was “concerned with the slow progress of development in Haiti due to its weak governing institutions and corruption.”
But neither the Haitian government nor its general population had access to the cash.
In his new book The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came To Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Jonathan M. Katz breaks down how foreign aid money was spent.
The U.S. pledged $1.15 billion. Here’s why that money hardly reached Haitians themselves:
1. $212 million of the funding wasn’t actually cash. It was in debt forgiveness.
A common practice in adding up aid money is to report “debt forgiveness” as donations.
2. Just 1 percent of total funding went to the Haitian government.
The Haitian government had access to about $24 million, which includes donations from other countries.
3. Of all the contracts awarded, only 22 (worth less than $4.8 million) went to Haitian contractors.
Most of the money was granted to American and foreign contractors.
5. Military deployment costs included using aid money to pay for standard repairs.
Costs included $1 million per day for 18 days so aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson could sit in the Port-au-Prince harbor and provide medical and logistics assistance. Repairs to UH-60 Jayhawk Helicopters cost $3.6 million.
6. Taking care of U.S. government employees.
At least $368,000 on meals and lodging in and outside of Haiti included check-ins at the five-star Mandarin Oriental in Washington DC, four luxury hotels in Santo Domingo and a Tampa Bay resort.
7. Spending that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
$50,000 in elevator maintenance in a country with approximately a dozen elevators.
$194,000 for photo and video equipment at a store in Manhattan.
The U.S. Navy spent $18,550 for a “Gorilla Big Skye I” jungle gym and swing set. It currently retails for $3,099.
The Coast Guard spent $4,462 for a deep-fat fryer.
8. Purchasing awards for those involved in the mission.
At the conclusion of Operation Unified Response, The Coast Guard spent $11,352 on medals and ribbons from a store in Virginia.
Requests for explanations from these government offices went unanswered during reporting and fact-checking for The Big Truck, to which this reporter contributed.
“Huge logistical operations cost money, especially when they involve nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and tens of thousands of personnel,” Katz writes. “But it’s misleading to call such spending ‘money for Haiti,’ especially when it gives the impression that any Haitian could have misappropriated or even profited from it. If anything, much of the money was a stimulus program for the donor countries themselves.”
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