In 2010, almost $1.4 billion in aid poured into earthquake-stricken Haiti. $32 million of that number came from the American Red Cross’ $10 text messages touted in aid campaigns and endorsed by celebrities. But according to a stunning joint Pro Publica and NPR investigation released today, the American Red Cross had a lot more difficulty spending your money than you had sending it.
The investigation focuses heavily on the Red Cross’ claims of providing homes to more than 130,000 Haitians with its 2013 development project. The report reveals that while the organization raised $488 million donations, it only built six permanent houses. The Red Cross reports, which are available to the public, group expenses into large categories. For example, shelter, which included the botched housing project, accounts for $170 million.
Tracking down the impact of overall efforts unearthed a number of issues in the organizations’ transparency efforts:
For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)
The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.
The investigation goes on to detail the organization’s mistakes, such as reportedly discriminating against Haitian employees and ballooning costs of projects with outside contractors. It pinpoints the many internal crises of an organization that was also lambasted for its handling of 9/11 and Katrina and was barely solvent a year and half before the earthquake hit.
The Red Cross is not the only aid organization to have acted ineptly in the sometimes complex operating zone of post-quake Haiti. The cholera epidemic that hit Haiti after the earthquake raised criticism of the slow-moving nature of many sanitation projects. According to Pro Publica, the Red Cross’ own response to the epidemic was internally marked as “very behind schedule” months into the epidemic. A story by NBC News revealed that the United Nations has released only half of what they’ve earmarked for the crisis through 2020.
“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said in a statement to Pro Publica.
Tonya Riley is a freelance journalist covering technology, policy and Eastern Europe.