Scrutiny of Red Cross Effort Grows

April 28, 2010

Frances Robles reports on the American Red Cross in Haiti for the Miami Herald, noting the aid organization is coming under increasing pressure to explain how they are spending the $400 million in donations for Haiti. Robles writes:

But after consuming $106 million in the first 60 days, the Red Cross in the past month has tapped just $5 million more and has come under fire for what critics call anemic spending.

Other aid groups, members of Congress, bloggers and even a former board member are among the growing chorus asking what the Red Cross is doing with such a massive amount of money raised in such a short time.

The American Red Cross plans on spending about half of their donations this year, and the rest over a 3-5 year period, reports Robles. The former board member, Victoria Cummock, had some particularly harsh words for the organization, saying, “That’s not disaster relief, that’s long-term recovery, and that’s not the Red Cross’ mission and not the donor intent either.”

Robles reports that Cummock, after asking about the Red Cross’ relief efforts in Haiti, gave $25,000 to Project Medishare and UNICEF instead.

The three-month report released by the American Red Cross earlier this month raises more questions. According to their own numbers, the Red Cross network had built just 200 latrines in the previous month. Since along with shelter, sanitation provision is a top priority, this seems like a low number. USAID in their most recent update notes that out of a total of 15,300 latrines, just 8,727 have been built. Previous plans had been to build 11,000 by April 15.

The American Red Cross’ three-month report also states the organization has distributed relief items to the same number of people (400,000 people) as in the two-month report. Does this mean that in one whole month, the Red Cross did not supply relief items to anyone new?

The bigger question underscored by the Herald article, however, is this, also from the three-month report: “Of the more than $400 million raised to date, the American Red Cross expects to spend approximately $200 million to meet the survivors’ immediate needs — mostly in the first 12 months following the earthquake. The remainder of the funds raised, now a bit more than $200 million to date, will be allocated for long-term recovery.”

Why doesn’t the Red Cross ramp up spending now to do what is necessary to avert disaster, with the current rainy season and the coming hurricane season?

Robles also notes that the Red Cross had been criticized by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In response to the representative’s comments, the American Red Cross released a statement, which read, in part:

The results of our efforts are evident in many areas around Haiti. For example, the American Red Cross has provided 111,000 tarps, 4,400 tents, 29,000 shelter kits and 248,000 blankets.

It is unclear, however, if this is an accurate representation of the organization’s efforts. The statement was given on April 8, however at the time the Shelter Cluster was reporting that the International Federation of the Red Cross network had only distributed 72,654 tarps. 

Now, more than 100 days after the earthquake, relief efforts may have improved, however for many the situation has not. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times reported today on the conditions on Avenue Poupelard, writing:

Avenue Poupelard provides a less encouraging picture of the reach of aid, services and information than that found in official situation reports. Tucked into encampments too small to have attracted the nongovernmental groups operating in the big tent cities, many on Avenue Poupelard increasingly feel that they are on their own.

Asked if her situation had improved since immediately after the earthquake, Ms. Joseph paused and said, “I guess it smells better with the bodies gone.” She and others on the street are still looking for sturdy tarpaulins or tents and wondering how to secure a foothold in the new temporary relocation sites, like the one north of this city in Corail Cesse Lesse, to which thousands from the camp at the Pétionville country club were recently moved.

“I’d love one of those places with latrines,” Ms. Joseph said. “The hole we dug for our toilet here is filthy and sick, and now we go inside broken-down houses to relieve ourselves.”

Reports such as this one are hard to reconcile with the Shelter Cluster’s report from April 26, which says that 99.6 percent of those in need have received shelter materials. One problem may be with the shelter material itself though. The most recent report from OCHA states that:

constant rain over the past few days has revealed that some tents are not waterproof, requiring additional plastic sheeting.

In addition, rope has only reached 37 percent of those in need and took kits only 11 percent. These inputs are key to ensuring a sturdy and waterproof shelter. OCHA noted on April 16 that the lack of rope and fixings, “remains a vital gap in the response”, and that “Most constructed emergency shelters will therefore require strengthening prior to the rainy season.”

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