Inspector General Slams USAID on Provision of Housing in Haiti

May 06, 2011

An audit by the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that looked at USAID efforts to provide transitional housing in Haiti was published a few weeks ago and has yet to receive any attention from the media. The report, however, is extremely damning in its assessment of US government efforts to provide housing and represents the first real attempt at accountability in the failure to adequately provide housing for those displaced by the earthquake.

The audit looks at progress on 16 grants, totaling $139 million that were awarded from January 2010 through June 2010. The biggest recipients of these funds were CHF International, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and GOAL Ireland. The full list of grantees is available in the report.

The audit found that USAID/OFDA grantees completed just 6 percent of planned transitional shelters by the onset of last year’s hurricane season (June 2010). By November 2010, just 22 percent of shelters had been completed. The audit notes that grantees will not be able to complete all the shelters they had planned due to “rising costs and unrealistic initial cost estimates.” There is also a 65 percent shortfall in the efforts to repair “14,375 homes minimally damaged in the earthquake.”

The inspector general made a series of recommendations to USAID, however they note that, “No management decisions have been reached on Recommendations 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7.” There are only seven recommendations.

A major factor in the cost overruns was that USAID “did not provide direction to grantees on a standard shelter design,” despite the Shelter Cluster (of which, USAID is a part of) having developed a standard design. This led to a wide variation in costs, delay in implementation and a number of shelters not conforming to international standards as “Some grantees constructed shelters that consisted of nothing more than simple plastic sheeting over a timber frame without floors, doors, or windows.” The report continues:

Haitian beneficiaries complained to grantees that they feared for their safety while living in shelters with no doors and plastic-sheeted walls, which could easily be cut with a knife. Some of the plastic sheeting provided was so thin that at night the inhabitants within were visible from outside the shelter. In addition, over time the plastic sheeting (shown below) began to wear and was unlikely to last the 3 years that USAID/OFDA required.

The audit also notes that the way the grants were made was problematic and excluded Haitian businesses (for more on this topic, click here):

USAID/OFDA implemented the shelter project by accepting unsolicited grant proposals issued under a waiver for competition because of the urgency of the need after the earthquake. Grants, which do not permit substantial involvement by the Agency, may not have been the best award mechanism to achieve rapid construction of cost-effective shelters meeting industry standards. If USAID/OFDA had used contracts for shelter construction, it could have prescribed the shelter design and could have given local Haitian businesses an opportunity to participate.

Another issue the audit deals with is that of customs delays, something that has been widely reported by NGOs and other groups on the ground. The audit notes, however, that USAID/OFDA did not act to resolve the customs delays. The report continues:

As a procuring agency, USAID/OFDA is responsible for the proper management of its awards. USAID/OFDA has experienced customs problems in disaster situations before. For example, customs delays were reported during the Aceh tsunami disaster response. Given the urgency of providing shelters to the Haitians, customs delays should have been anticipated and resolution quickly facilitated.

Rubble removal is often also cited as an impediment to the building of transitional shelter, and again the audit found serious problems with USAID/OFDA. While USAID officials told the auditors that they had not anticipated the problems with rubble removal, the OIG notes that just three weeks after the earthquake one USAID grantee had warned USAID officials that:

The major limiting factor for the placement of transitional shelters is the availability of suitable sites to erect the transitional shelters. This will dictate the pace more than any other factor.

Despite this warning, the audit found:

USAID/OFDA did not fund significant rubble removal activities in conjunction with its shelter grants. Some grants included funding for rubble removal through cash-for-work activities, which did not include heavy machinery. Only in November 2010 did USAID/OFDA sign a grant modification to the CHF shelter grant that incorporated the use of heavy equipment to remove rubble in conjunction with shelter construction in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood.

Furthermore, the audit found inadequate supervision of grantees on the part of USAID/OFDA. While USAID did monitor “the number of households receiving shelter” they failed to track the “percent of affected population receiving shelter, and (3) amount or percent of project budget spent in the local community.” The third indicator was referred to by USAID as “the least important of the three,” and “most grantees either did not have a target for or did not report on this indicator.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of the report is that when given the seven recommendations by the inspector general, USAID/OFDA disagreed with six of the seven and did not comment on the other. Rather than try to constructively improve the provision of housing in Haiti, or to try and fix these problems, USAID/OFDA’s overwhelming response was “we did nothing wrong.”

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