After the devastation that hit Haiti during their horrific earthquake in 2010, citizens from wealthy First World nations scrambled to assist with relief by donating to various charity hotlines, clicking the “Donate to Haiti” pop-ups online, or throwing a dollar bill in a bucket at a public fundraiser. Many Americans felt as though they were able to wipe their hands, give themselves a pat on the back, and move on with their lives after submitting a $10 donation via Facebook. Just months after the earthquake, the conditions in Haiti failed to make the news and concern about the state of the Haitian people slipped out of the minds of most Americans.
Many individuals who donated to the 2010 post-earthquake crisis in Haiti paid no attention to where exactly their money was going or how exactly it was being used. To go beyond that, many donors did not follow up with the charities to see how their money was being used months following the earthquake, providing these charities with no accountability for disbursement.
One year after the massive earthquake in Haiti occurred, only 43 percent of the money pledged by Americans had been disbursed, and much of it was not given to instant relief. Two years following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in St. Louis du Nord, a town approximately a 30-minute drive outside of Port-de-Paix. I traveled with fellow health students from Wheaton College with the agenda of performing public health surveys to analyze the effects of aid from First World organizations and evaluate the needs of the people.
When driving from the Port-au-Prince airport along the Haitian countryside, the devastation of the morbid natural disaster was still disturbingly evident, as many of the people still used lean-to tents, stray pieces of wood, and cardboard boxes to structure their homes. When performing “door to door,” or rather “tent to tent,” public health surveys among the residents, many residents had nothing good to say about relief efforts, and if anything, complained that humanitarian aid made matters worse.
We also found that relief efforts that had been deemed by humanitarian aid organizations to be solutions were in fact inflicting more harm than help. Following the earthquake, a cholera outbreak plagued the already devastated nation, killing over 8,300 people and infecting 650,000 over the course of three years. Cholera, however, is not a bacteria native to the country of Haiti. In fact, the Institute for Justice and Development is currently suing the United Nations after medical and scientific investigators concluded that the epidemic was most likely caused by a sewage leak from a U.N. base.
Following the devastating outbreak, UNICEF scrambled to stop the epidemic by performing a mass distribution of “aquatabs,” which ultimately worsened matters. These tablets consist primarily of chlorine and are intended to kill cholera in water, but they also are incredibly destructive to the intestines and overall gastrointestinal tract. In a survey of one family from St. Louis du Nord, they said they had experienced chronic diarrhea nearly every day since the distribution of the tablets and experienced significant amounts of pain and discomfort daily. Drinking water with aquatabs is essentially the same as drinking water out of a chlorinated swimming pool. While these tablets stifled the cholera outbreak, they induced long-term health issues upon the Haitian people. Instead of short-term solutions and long-term issues, the Haitians need long-term solutions, such as water filtering systems or clean well systems. At the turn of the New Year in 2013, more than 350,000 Haitians remained resident of almost 500 tent camps, still having received none of the billions of dollars donated to humanitarian relief. When asking one Haitian woman of her experience with relief, she lashed in her native language, “When we see you white people come in we always get our hopes up, but what have you done for us? Nothing!” One step in promoting accountability for the money donated in natural disaster relief is putting extra legwork into your assistance. Americans need to begin looking into the organizations to which they are donating and asking questions such as, “How is this organization going to help victims long-term? Has this organization done more harm or help in past circumstances?” After providing financial support, donors need to begin holding aid recipients accountable to proper disbursement.
The Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has so far confirmed the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan to be 3,621 with a remaining 25,000 missing persons. New York Times quoted Haitian President Michéle Pierre-Louis, “When you look at things, you say, ‘Hell, almost three years later, where is the reconstruction?’ If you ask what went right and what went wrong, the answer is, most everything went wrong. There needs to be some accountability for all that money.” Entire cities rest in shambles and the people of the Philippines are in desperate need of food, water, shelter, and medical help. Citizens must assure that resources are distributed well to the Philippines and that the failure of Haitian relief is not repeated. Researching the credibility and track records of various organizations is vital in assuring that resources are being used properly. The Charity Navigator website provides information on how various charities have distributed money following natural disasters. Individuals should take the extra few minutes to call organizations, write letters, and send emails asking how exactly the money is being used to aid victims of horrific Typhoon Haiyan.