The U.S. State Department’s Uninspiring Report to Congress

January 24, 2013

The Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator under the U.S. State Department has issued a new report to the U.S. Congress as required under the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010. The new report covers the period of 180 days up to September 30 last year. While there are some noteworthy accomplishments, these are unfortunately few, and it is important to keep in mind the greater context of money raised, committed, disbursed and spent, as well as the urgent needs at hand. The report notes that of $2.35 billion committed to Haiti since 2010, only about 50 percent has actually been spent. Excluding debt relief, of the $900 million made available in the 2010 supplemental appropriations bill as part of the New York donor conference pledge, just 32.9 percent has been spent [PDF]. It’s also noteworthy that of the nearly $300 million committed in 2012, only about a third was even obligated.

Considering that some 360,000 people are still estimated to be living in IDP camps three years after the earthquake, the report of “over 900 seismic and hurricane resistant houses under construction in Caracol, Northern Haiti and in Cabaret north of Port-au-Prince” seems relatively insignificant, not to mention the figure of “227 Haitian beneficiaries…selected to receive housing” “to date.” This is even less impressive considering that the sprawling U.S. Embassy compound in Port-au-Prince “consists of 107 new [three to five bedroom] townhouse units and a new Deputy Chief of Mission residence, along with support facilities, including a recreation center with an outdoor pool and courts, for two separate compounds,” according to the architectural firm that the State Department contracted to design it.

The report similarly mentions “250 LPG commercial stoves were sold to large charcoal users (street food vendors and schools) in Port-au-Prince” and four “Haitian small- and medium-size enterprises” that “won matching grants” in a “business plan competition.”

The report is also notable for what it does not mention: cholera, for example. This is a word and topic that does not appear once in the report, despite the ongoing epidemic and despite that “Health and Other Basic Services” is “Pillar C” of USAID’s “Haiti Rebuilding and Development Strategy.” Pillar C is allotted three paragraphs of the report; cholera is arguably Haiti’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, killing more people every day.

It also seems that the while the report provides a platform to tout the highlights of the U.S.’s work in Haiti, it fails to include many aspects that are required in the legislation mandating the report. The report notes that the supplemental appropriations act mandated that the

report is to include…a description, by goal and objective, of the implementation of the Strategy; an assessment of progress, or lack thereof, during the preceding 180 days toward meeting the goals and objectives, benchmarks, and timeframes specified in the Strategy, including an assessment of the performance of the Government of Haiti; a description of U.S. government programs contributing to the achievement of the goals and objectives including the amounts obligated and expended on such programs during the preceding six months; and an assessment of efforts to coordinate U.S. government programs with assistance provided by other donors and implementing partners, including significant gaps in donor assistance.

That is the sole mention of the word “benchmark” in the report and there is extremely little information on “amounts obligated and expended” on specific programs. For example, in the section on Infrastructure and Energy, there is no mention of any costs associated with the new houses being built or how the completion of 900 houses compares to what the benchmarks of those programs actually were. Without this information, it would be extremely difficult for Congress to come to any sort of conclusion about the effectiveness of U.S. government aid in Haiti. And while the report certainly lists some areas where there has been progress, there is no mention of areas where progress has lagged, or if programs have not been as effective as intended, a fact hard to reconcile with previous independent government evaluations showing significant delays and problems in U.S. government funded programs.

Other accomplishments mentioned in the report may unfortunately already have been swept away, since the report covers a period of time that ended a full month before Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti. Progress on increased crop yields noted under “Pillar B: Food and Economic Security” has likely been undone by Sandy’s impact, which left 2.1 million people food insecure, according to the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [PDF].

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