Haiti: Three Years After the Quake and Not Much Has Changed

December 11, 2012
This is a joint post with Vijaya Ramachandran.January 12 will mark the third anniversary of the tragic Haiti earthquake that killed over 220,000 people, displaced millions, and flattened much of Port au Prince.  Damage and losses estimated at $7.8 billion exceeded Haiti’s entire GDP at the time.  The country received unprecedented support in response: more than $9 billion has been disbursed to Haiti in public and private funding since 2010.  Private donations alone reached $3 billion, much of it from individuals donating small sums via text messages to the Red Cross and other charities.  Official donors tripled their assistance from 2009; in 2010 aid flows were 400 percent of the Haitian government’s domestic revenue.Sadly, three years later not much has changed.  Haiti suffered devastating losses from Hurricane Sandy, among other natural disasters; these events have earned considerably less media attention than the 2010 quake.  There has been some progress toward reconstruction and recovery, but it has been very slow.  In May, we released a policy paper tracking where the money has gone, and recommending ways to improve effectiveness of aid coming from NGOs and private contractors.  As the three-year mark approaches, we set out to update the disbursement numbers and track the flow of aid to Haiti. Here is what we found from the data collected by the Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti:
  • $9.04 billion has been disbursed by both public and private donors.
  • Bilateral and multilateral donors have disbursed $6.04 billion, which is 47.8% of the $12.62 pledged in humanitarian and recovery funding.
  • Of the $6.04 billion from bilaterals and multilaterals, only 9.5% ($579 million) was channeled to the Government of Haiti (GOH) using country systems. 0.6% ($36.2 million) was channeled to Haitian NGOs and businesses.

*Excludes debt relief ($994.5M) and peacekeeping. All data from the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti and their recent report. NY Pledges refer to the funding that came from the International Donor’s Conference in New York on 31 March 2010.
Who got this money?  See HERE for a breakdown of the recipients of humanitarian funding and HERE for our diagram of the recipients of recovery funding. Despite extensive efforts, our ability to trace the money is limited by a lack of transparency and accountability—indeed, three years after the quake, much remains unknown.  For instance, who exactly got the $1.3 billion – 36% of the total – that was disbursed as grants to International NGOs and contractors?  As we have blogged previously, we can look at procurement databases to track primary contract recipients, but we cannot go much further. We can see, for instance, that $150 million was disbursed to Chemonics, but we have no idea about how that money was spent.This isn’t only a frustration for researchers like us who spend days (and some nights) tracking procurement data.  This is a real problem for the Government of Haiti as the lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible for domestic authorities manage aid flows.  Pierre Erold Etienne, Director-General of the Haitian Ministry of Finance noted that “We have only very little, overall information on aid….. We are required to be transparent.  We publish the financial information relevant to the execution of our budget.  All we ask is for the same transparency from our donor friends, which should help both us and them.”While the Haitian government does lack capacity in some areas, donors can be more responsive to their needs. Only a small amount of funds has been channeled to the Government of Haiti – less than 10% of total funding has gone through country systems. Donor pledges have not matched Haitian government priorities and there has been a serious lack of investment in infrastructure.  This was horribly evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when many roads in Port au Prince were deemed unpassable and hundreds of thousands of Haitians were left homeless.  Investments in infrastructure, so crucial to a country where natural disasters are common and old roads and bridges are easily ruined, has simply not materialized.The Haitian Government and its international partners have recently issued an official request for donors to fund a $2.2 billion 10-year project to upgrade the water, sanitation and health infrastructure throughout the country.  It is a long-term project that aims to overhaul the entire current system and provide 85 percent of Haitians with improved access to drinking water and 90 percent with improved sanitation facilities by 2022. The project is also designed to strengthen the capacity of the Haitian government to provide services to its people and to ensure oversight and maintenance of new facilities. This is exactly the type of future-looking, government-led, sustainable investment that Haiti needs. The only problem? No one wants to fund it – to date the only promise is  for $5 million--from the World Bank.What needs to happen to "build back better" in Haiti?  We have previously recommended that NGOs and private contractors be required to provide more and better independent evaluations, and to share data on their activities through the International Aid Transparency Initiative. All donors (including USAID and the US Government more broadly) can improve upon the current situation by reporting their data  to IATI, or even simply by publishing quarterly reports on project expenditures. All donors also need to make a greater effort to work with the Haitian government, to strengthen their ability to manage Haiti’s economy and invest in longer-term investments such as infrastructure. Both are critical for Haiti to turn the corner and begin the long process of recovery from the natural disasters of the past several years.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.