Haiti’s troubled history may slow aid to earthquake victims

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A woman sleeps outside her home in Saint-Louis-du-Sud, Haiti, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, two days after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern part of the country. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Humanitarian aid is flowing into Haiti following Saturday’sdeadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake. However, the Caribbean nation’s political unrest, as well as an approaching tropical storm, is complicating efforts.

Nonprofit groups and philanthropy experts say the assassination last month of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, as well as accusations that money raised following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti never reached those in need, will make fundraising for the nation even tougher.

Art delaCruz, CEO of Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys emergency response teams to work with first responders in disaster areas, said the first briefing his teams in Haiti and the Dominican Republic had with support teams in the United States was about security.

“The assassination of the president, the almost gang-like existence there, it really increases the risk to organizations like ours that deploy into this situation,” delaCruz said. However, Team Rubicon, which was founded in 2010 by Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, has experience on the ground in the country and in similar situations around the world.

“It’s dicey for everyone because the information is incomplete and the situation is dynamic,” delaCruz said. “One way we have a competitive advantage on this is we are an organization where 70% of the volunteers are veterans. They have seen this kind of an environment.”

Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen, cited the need for adaptability as well. He was in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Monday, managing the nonprofit’s efforts to combat food insecurity following the earthquake, but found that its transportation system was needed to bring injured people to the hospital.

“We’ve been really focusing, not just on food, but also how we can support our local partners,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time here. We know how to navigate the complexities.”

Haiti inspired chef Jose Andres to found World Central Kitchen following the 2010 earthquake and the nonprofit has maintained a presence there, opening a culinary school in 2015 that is now one of two bases of operations to provide thousands of meals a day.

“People are hungry and they’re getting desperate and that creates instability and a lot of concerns, so we need to work with our partners to get them food, to make sure food is available,” Mook said.

Skyler Badenoch, CEO of the Florida nonprofit Hope for Haiti, says the response has also been complicated because its staff has been directly affected by the disaster. The organization is now gearing up to distribute $60 million worth of first aid supplies and medical equipment to help those affected, he said.

Aid to Haiti has been probed for years and scrutiny intensified in 2015 when an investigation from ProPublica and NPR questioned where $500 million raised by the American Red Cross was spent.

The American Red Cross said in an emailed statement that it is not seeking donations for Haiti relief at this time, but will work with its partners — including the Haitian Red Cross and the Red Crescent — to respond to the earthquake. It also disputed the ProPublica/NPR findings. “Americans donated generously in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake to save lives — which is exactly what their donations did,” it said in a statement.

Despite the criticisms the Red Cross has received, Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, an expert in humanitarian aid and professor at George Washington University, said she believes donors will continue to rely on the organization because of its reputation.

“It has been resilient,” she said, partly because the organization is easily recognized by donors for its work with blood drives, and other things.

This time around, Marleine Bastien, the executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, a social service organization based in the “Little Haiti” neighborhood in Florida, says her organization will devise a plan to hold accountable every group that’s collecting donations for Haiti.

“We definitely do not want another film titled ‘Where Did The Money Go’?” Bastien said, in reference to the 2012 documentary that looked at donations given to Haiti relief following the 2010 earthquake.

The deadly earthquake hit Haiti at the same time a growing humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Ethiopia, and instability is rocking Afghanistan. Deloffre, of George Washington University, said she believes fundraising prospects for the country are bleak.

“I unfortunately do not expect broad global attention to the earthquake in Haiti,” she said. “Or public giving, on the same scale as we saw in response to the 2010 earthquake.”

Past allegations of misspent donations have created some hesitancy as well, said Badenoch, of Hope for Haiti, though the need following the most recent earthquake may be even more intense.

“It is quite possible that Haiti is going to need more help than ever before,” said Akim Kikonda, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Haiti.

Laura Durington, Catholic Relief Services’ director of annual giving, said the group, which has worked there for 50 years, is providing whatever help that it can. It started to distribute emergency supplies Monday because they had stockpiled tents and metal sheeting there previously.

“Yes, there have been some bad actors, but not giving because of that is short-sighted,” Durington said. “It’s really frustrating, because every penny that was given to us for Haiti went to Haiti. There has been incremental, positive change. And Haiti’s needs are so critical right now.”

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