As gut-wrenching images fill our cell phones and TV screens, many will think to donate to Haiti’s hurricane victims through the American Red Cross.
While ostensibly an altruistic gesture, it’s a situation where research into the work of the American Red Cross, and more specifically their aid to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, might encourage those seeking to donate to look elsewhere.
Even Haitians themselves are flooding social media with messages discouraging Americans from donating to the Red Cross, cautioning about the well-documented misspending that took place just six years ago.
— TEMPLATE NEWS (@NayabChohan786) October 8, 2016
Embassy of Haiti has actually set up a relief hotline.
So call and find how you can help. 2023204436
Just DON’T give your money to @RedCross
— Anderson.Snack (@JustInNotOut) October 7, 2016
What the public knows now about the American Red Cross’ opaque spending of $500 million in donations for Haiti following the 2010 earthquake largely stems from an investigative collaboration between NPR and ProPublica. The news organizations dug up a startling lack of transparency and efficiency, not to mention a seeming lack of concern for the Haitian people.
Lee Malany, an American who headed the Red Cross shelter program in 2010, left the project after attending a Washington meeting where he says the organization was more concerned with what would make them look good than what would actually do good.
“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing.'”
“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me. These numbers should have been zero.”
Also chilling, the Red Cross continued to ask for people to donate to Haiti well after they had acquired the necessary funding to assist the country. ProPublic alleges that the American charity had at least partially used this money to pay off the organization’s $100 million deficit. Insiders at the time referred to the situation as a “spectacular fundraising opportunity.”
— Canadian Red Cross (@redcrosscanada) October 9, 2016
In one devastated neighborhood, Campeche, journalists visited to see for themselves what the American Red Cross had managed to do on the ground. This decision came after being refused a tour by the charity on several occasions. Although a $24 million budget had proposed the building of 700 homes there, none had been erected. As of June 2015, only six of the 130,000 proposed housing units in Haiti had been constructed, reporting The Huffington Post.
In promotional materials, the American charity claimed to have gotten 4.5 million Haitians “back on their feet,” a statement which then-Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive called “not possible” considering the total population of the country is just 10 million. In some specific areas, the Red Cross said that they had helped more people than actually lived there. Double counting was also uncovered. Bellerive said that such analysis wasn’t even necessary to see how poorly the charity had performed.
“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money. I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”
Some other local officials, such as Haitian water and sanitation expert Paul Christian Namphy, said that the American Red Cross’ mismanagement of donations cost lives. The cholera epidemic that plagued Haiti following the earthquake killed at least 6,000. Other groups managed to get their programs in place much faster, despite often working with fewer donations.
Not only did American Red Cross squander donations meant to get Haiti back on its feet, there were also accusations of prejudice from representatives on the ground. Furthermore, the cost of hiring an American or other foreign employee was estimated to be as much as three times what it would have cost to hire a Haitian for the same job. Judith St. Fort, then director of the organization’s operations in the country, wrote a disparaging letter to executives condemning such behavior in 2011 — along with lamenting the little progress that had been made on programs meant to combat disease on the ground.
“The implication that talented, smart, competent Haitians cannot be found in Haiti needs to be dispelled… what exactly does that mean when a delegate utters those words in references to Haitian staff?”
In response to the in-depth reporting, the American Red Cross has denied most of the allegations — citing difficulties on the ground as the reason that their efforts largely failed. They even accused NPR and ProPublica of thwarting their efforts by sowing discord in local communities. The reporters countered by noting that several organizations with much less money were able to successfully help Haitians.
So if donations to Haiti through American Red Cross are out of the question, where can funds be sent to help out the troubled island nation? Fortunately, there is actually a long list of groups that are currently at work on the island who haven’t had their reputations sullied yet — even several that are not based out of Haiti.
[Editor’s Note: The American Red Cross has contacted us with a statement regarding the content of this article.
“As Haiti grapples with yet another natural disaster, Americans are asking how they can help. It’s similar to the sentiment they felt in 2010, when an earthquake ravaged the country, which was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
After the earthquake, people donated generously to the American Red Cross–eventually contributing $488 million. The money helped save lives in the disaster’s aftermath with food, water, medical care, tarps, sanitation, and cholera vaccinations. Because of Americans’ generosity, we have invested in 22 hospitals and clinics in Haiti–including the Mirebalais Hospital run by Partners In Health. We have also repaired schools, built the country’s first wastewater treatment plant, and helped more than 22,000 families obtain safer homes.
There’s no doubt that Haiti has a long way to go, but we are proud of how far that $488 million has gone. It is important to recognize that the donations we received are less than 4 percent of the total aid committed to Haiti after the quake. We can’t do everything for the country, but we continue to invest those funds in Haiti–including on disaster preparedness initiatives–and that’s something donors to the Red Cross can be proud of.”]
[Featured Image by Ramon Espinosa/AP Images]