If it’s news to you, it was to CBS News too, when Katie Couric recently visited Haiti and spoke to Erin Boyd, a nutrition aide for UNICEF. Boyd disagrees with cutting back on aid, but told why it’s being done.
“When you continue having a lot of food distributions, you lower the price of food so that people can’t trade, and it disrupts markets, basically,” Boyd said.
In other words, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, there may be such a thing as too much help. The public outpouring is so generous it’s interfering with the Haitian economy.
If food is free local farmers can’t sell what they grow.
Desperately poor residents who aren’t earthquake victims are moving into refugee camps for the free food and health care. But the government wants residents to be less dependent on foreign aid, not more.
Susan Reichle is with USAID, the U.S. agency that distributes foreign aid. It’s already spent $562 million on Haiti relief.
“As they’ve requested that these large-scale food distributions end as well as some of the large-scale programs which are really pulling people into the camps, we’re working with them. We’re in complete agreement with them on this point,” Reichle said.
Pulling back on aid means something a lot of American donors might find unthinkable. Even as many go without meals, relief food that’s already made it to Haiti is now being sent to warehouses for future disasters. USAID calls it “prepositioning.”
The Long Road Back: More Coverage
The World Food Programme – the food aid branch of the U.N. – also tells CBS News it’s scaling back food aid at the request of the Haiti government, “repositioning” food for future disasters.
The shift away from free food on a massive scale has been done quietly in Haiti and it has opened a can of worms. Relief officials who need to keep donations flowing worry that once word gets out, people will be less likely to give. Others say donations meant for earthquake relief shouldn’t now be used for something else.
As of today, total donations to Haiti meet and exceed the biggest estimates of how much it will cost to rebuild – up to $14 billion. The record-breaking Hope for Haiti Telethon in January brought in more than $66 million. That’s part of the $4 billion raised by non-government groups and charities. The U.S. government has given more than $1 billion and has pledged another billion-plus. Other countries and world bodies have pledged $8.75 billion over two years. That’s $14.9 billion and counting.
With all that aid pouring in, some worry that it will feed corrupt and criminal elements rather than the needy. There are reports of gangs intercepting aid and selling food on the black market with impunity from high-ranking officials.
It’s just one example of the complexities in play when trying to help the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. There’s money in the pipeline and food being sent to warehouses, while hundreds of thousands go hungry.