The White House issued a press release yesterday detailing the US government's response to the earthquake in Haiti. The release included this:
USAID has provided 160,000 plastic sheets and 24,500 family size tents that will help 185,000 families out of the estimated 260,000 families in need of shelter assistance.
However there are a number of reasons to question this assertion. First, part of USAID's role is to give contracts to NGO's and other aid organizations to undertake specific projects, including distributing shelter. USAID has been issuing fact sheets regarding efforts in Haiti, which lists the organizations that have received funding, and for what. Although the descriptions are broad, it provides a good measure of what organizations have been contracted by USAID to work on the issue of shelter. According to the most recent fact sheet USAID has allocated over $100 million dollars to organizations working on shelter, although the dollar amount also reflects work being done in other areas as well. The Shelter Cluster, a grouping of NGOs, international and government agencies working on providing shelter, provides regular updates of their progress, including which organizations have distributed what, as well as what they have in stock and in the pipeline. Totaling up the numbers from all the organizations which have received USAID funding for shelter, one sees that including what is in stock and the pipeline these organizations are set distribute about 130,000 tarps and just over 10,000 tents. Two organizations which received USAID funding (totaling over $40 million) for activities including provision of shelter are not included in the Shelter Cluster distribution list, CHF International and Chemonics. This raises a whole different set of questions, but it seems clear that the numbers provided by the White House are overly optimistic. It is also important to note that many of these organizations have received funding from other sources as well, so to credit all of their work to the US may actually overestimate the number of tents and tarps that have been distributed through USAID.  It is possible that USAID has distributed more tarps or tents through other partners, for instance USAID works with the International Office for Migration (IOM), which has distributed both tents and tarps, but according to the fact sheet IOM has not gotten funds for shelter and settlements from USAID.

Secondly, and more importantly, the White House statement says that their tarps and tents will provide shelter for 71% of the families in need. This, however, is based on the assumption that one tent or tarp will provide adequate shelter for a family. This is different from what the Shelter Cluster is basing their analysis on. In the eyes of the Shelter Cluster one tent will provide for one family, but it will take two tarps. Using this classification one can see that even if the numbers the White House provided are accurate, it would only provide shelter for 40% of those in need. If you took the Shelter Cluster's statistics then the US effort will end up providing just under 29% of total shelter needs.

It is unclear why USAID or the White House would use different shelter criteria than what the Shelter Cluster is using, considering that USAID is part of the Cluster and has been since the beginning. The use of different criteria can only lead to confusion and a very real danger that people without shelter could remain without because they get counted as being provided for.

The US has already spent over $700 million dollars on the relief and recovery effort, and an emergency supplemental may soon be passed allocating even more money. The US has a vital role to play in Haiti's recovery, however rather than making their efforts look like more than what they really are, the US should be taking a critical look at the relief efforts and making sure they are doing everything they can to provide adequate shelter. The rains have already begun, and the rainy season will begin in earnest in a month, yet there are still 650,000 Haitians without shelter. Experts have warned that the rainy season will present a second humanitarian emergency, possibly leading to thousands of more deaths through flooding, landslides and disease.