Red Cross Accused of Doing Very Little With $500M In Donations For Haitian Relief

Transparency is key right now.

The Red Cross has a huge PR problem on its hands after NPR and ProPublica published a report showing that for the $500 million the organization raised to aid the people affected by the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti, only six permanent houses have been built. Six.

The article differentiates between permanent housing and the temporary shelters that are set up to help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. While the Red Cross has “provided homes” for 130,000 people, the long-term housing that they promised still hasn’t been built.

Also lacking are the other projects that the money was meant to cover, including a sanitation system, infrastructure and a health clinic, which are items listed in a brochure that the reporters from ProPublica and NPR had on hand when they spoke with people in Haiti and did their reporting on the piece.

The article says when the reporters approached the Red Cross with the discrepancy between what’s in the booklet and what has actually been accomplished, the organization accused them of trying to stir up trouble that could lead to security issues.

According to NPR:

The Red Cross also has outlined over the years some of the projects it has funded, such as millions of dollars given for new hospitals, vaccination programs, and disbursement of tents and water tablets. The charity says it has done more than 100 projects in Haiti, repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters and donating $44 million for food.

But the charity will not provide a list of specific programs it ran, how much they cost or what their expenses were.

In some cases, projects were given to third parties, which drove up the costs. In others, there are questions about just how many people really have benefited from their help. The article also reports on a number of memos that were bounced around where it looks as though projects are stalled because of the organization’s leadership.

“We have provided, through our public website, where the money has gone by sector, and we stand by the accuracy of that information,” said David Meltzer, the Red Cross’ general counsel and head of the international division.

The response to this report must be transparency. The Red Cross needs to come out with a thorough accounting of what they collected and everywhere it has spent that money. That means an itemized list of programs and expenditures, the areas that are recovering and evidence in the form of photographs, video and testimonials from the Haitian people themselves about the improvements that all of that money has purchased. The group has posted this on their blog, but it’s not enough. The organization is being accused of caring more about PR than people. So they must show how their actions impact the people in tangible terms.

Donors do not like it when their money is wasted and mismanaged. And rightfully so. When someone gives in a situation like the devastation that we saw in Haiti, it’s a genuine outpouring of concern for fellow humans. They want to know that the little bit they do is going to help someone in a desperate situation.

The concern here is not only the idea that there are people in Haiti right now who have been living in makeshift housing for five years, but also that people will be reluctant to give to the Red Cross (or any other aid organization) when something like this happens in the future.

As we’ve seen recently in Nepal, for instance, the need for immediate aid in a disaster will always be there. The desire to give must be there also. When people hear that the largest and most trusted relief organizations might be tossing away millions of dollars, that desire begins to fade.

Image of Haiti in 2010 via Shutterstock