Real hope for Haiti — if donors follow through


There was much to celebrate after last week’s United Nations Donors’ Conference on Haiti. Some 130 donors pledged almost $10 billion to help rebuild the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation, which was further devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people.More than half the money — $5.26 billion — is pledged for the next 18 months. Overall, the pledged funds, which come on top of relief aid already received, pleased many observers. After the conference, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that donors went “far beyond expectations.”

The reality, however, is that we don’t know yet if donors will meet expectations. That’s because, when it comes to Haiti, the international community has often failed to see through promises of donations and aid. If this latest effort to bring about real change in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is to be successful, it will be crucial to ensure that pledges are fulfilled.

There have been good reasons in the past for failing to follow through with pledged money. For example, in 2001, more than $500 million in aid and loans pledged by the United States and the Inter-American Development Bank was delayed for years because of concerns about corruption and the political policies of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.


But very often it’s also been because of a lack of commitment to the country.

In 2004, about $1 billion was pledged by the international community to help Haiti. But when the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights tracked those pledges several years later, it could not find much of the money, in part because many of the pledges were never fulfilled.

After four hurricanes struck Haiti in 2008, more than $300 million was pledged to help rebuild the country. At the time of January’s earthquake, most of those pledges still had not been fulfilled, according to the RFK Center. Only about 30 percent of that money was received by Haiti, says Monika Kalra Varma, director of the RFK Center.

“This is something that concerns us,” says Kalra Varma, who notes that there are several reasons for the lack of donations.

In some cases, the money may have been donated but went to non-governmental organizations, making it difficult to track. In other cases, shoddy accounting made it impossible to determine whether the money truly was donated. And then there are the organizations that pledge but don’t donate as promised.

Making the pledge, Kalra Varma says, looks good: “You look like you’re supporting a country that needs help.”


Yet there is reason to be optimistic this time. For one thing, a special envoy’s office, headed by former President Bill Clinton, has been created to help track and distribute the money through a multi-donor fund. It’s an effort to ensure that pledges are fulfilled and the money is spent as intended. It’s not clear, however, how much of the money pledged last week will go through that fund.

Nonetheless, the process will be a real break from the past. The Special Envoy’s office has begun posting information about the funding status, showing how much money has been raised. More importantly, it breaks out how much has actually been contributed and disbursed.

That gives observers such as Kalra Varma some reason to be hopeful. In the past, she says, “It was really quite apparent to us that a lot of the money never got to Haiti.”


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