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The Presidential Palace - Haiti (Courtesy TransAfrica Forum)

The Presidential Palace - Haiti (Courtesy TransAfrica Forum)

Almost seven months have passed since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.  The destruction was massive; the financial costs are estimated at US$8-11 billion.

In my work I receive daily reports from people who are either in Haiti working on the recovery effort or who have just returned from consultations, assessments, and interviews in the country.  Across the board the reports are the same: “What we saw was horrible.  It rained every night and people still don’t have adequate shelter; you know that a lot more people are going to die and many more will suffer unnecessarily,” from one colleague.  Yet according to CBS News, “enough aid has been raised to give each displaced family [in Haiti] a check for $37,000.”  Given the outpouring of resources, why are Haitians continuing to suffer?

Despite the large amount of money pledged — over 50 percent of Americans donated to the Haiti relief effort — the efficiency of the effort has been weakened by structural problems, bureaucratic inactivity, the scope of the disaster, and other interests trying to keep their privileges while giving the appearance of change.  For example, the American Red Cross is holding more almost 70 percent of the money it raised for Haiti, which is unacceptable when Haitians are in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care.

Haiti’s 1.5 million displaced people, now living in over 1,300 camps, need basic resources now.

The lack of security in housing, food, medical care, and sanitation has placed those who are displaced, particularly women and girls, at even further risk.  Incidences of rape and violence against women have increased in both numbers and severity.  The increased occurrences of rape and other Gender Based Violence (GBV) are directly related to the current situation facing internally displaced people (IDPs).  The situation is made worse by the failure of the Haitian government and the international community to adhere to international principles for IDP care.

If the problems identified in the first six months, including corruption, human rights violations, and waste, are left uncorrected, they will continue on into the reconstruction period.

Here in the United States almost 50 percent of all households have contributed more than $1 billion dollars to U.S. charities for immediate relief from the effects of Haiti’s devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake.  Nations around the world have pledged more than $5 billion dollars for Haiti’s 18 month reconstruction period.

It is time for the Congress to begin to ask the question:  Where is the Money?

Congress’ oversight responsibility is critical to ensuring transparency and accountability during the reconstruction period.  Congressional hearings provide an opportunity to ensure that Members and the public have complete information regarding U.S. efforts on the ground, which is critical. During this August recess period members of congress will be campaigning in their home districts.  Use your voice, ask them if they plan to use their oversight authority to investigate the small amounts of money actually reaching Haiti’s shore.

The situation in Haiti is serious and warrants congressional query in order to both generate findings and to recommend changes to policy and procedures.   Americans have pledged money to the relief effort; we need to demand to know where that money is being spent, and that it will be spent on Haitians that require food, shelter and medical care.

Congressional oversight is needed, and it is needed now!

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