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Review: Haiti government gets less than one penny of U.S. quake aid dollar
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Less than a penny of each dollar the U.S. is spending on earthquake relief in Haiti is going in the form of cash to the Haitian government, according to an Associated Press review of relief efforts.
Two weeks after President Obama announced an initial $100 million for Haiti earthquake relief, U.S. government spending on the disaster has nearly quadrupled to $379 million, the U.S. Agency for International Development said Wednesday. That's about $1.25 each from everyone in the United States.
Each American dollar roughly breaks down like this: 42 cents for disaster assistance, 33 cents for U.S. military aid, nine cents for food, nine cents to transport the food, five cents for paying Haitian survivors for recovery efforts, just less than one cent to the Haitian government and about half a cent to the Dominican Republic.
The U.S. government money is part of close to $2 billion in relief aid flowing into Haiti -- almost all of it managed by organizations other than the Haitian government, which has been struggling to re-establish its authority since the quake. On Wednesday, a defensive President Rene Preval acknowledged his country's reputation, but said aid money isn't lining the pockets of government officials.
"There's a perception of corruption, but I would like to tell the Haitian people that the Haitian government has not seen one penny of all the money that has been raised," Preval said, speaking in Creole at a news conference.
Relief experts say it would be a mistake to send too much direct cash to the Haitian government, which was already unstable before the quake and routinely included on lists of the world's most corrupt countries.
"I really believe Americans are the most generous people who ever lived, but they want accountability," said Timothy R. Knight, a former US AID assistant director who spent 25 years distributing disaster aid. "In this situation they're being very deliberate not to just throw money at the situation but to analyze based on a clear assessment and make sure that money goes to the best place possible."
The AP review of federal budget spreadsheets, procurement reports and contract databases shows the vast majority of U.S. funds going to established and tested providers including the U.N. World Food Program, the Pan American Health Organization and nonprofit groups such as Save The Children, which have sent in everything from the $3.4 million barge that cleared the port for aid deliveries to pinto beans at 40 cents a pound.
"We are trying to respond as quickly as we can to this catastrophe of biblical proportions by mustering all of the resources that the United States government can bring to bear, first on rescue leading into relief, which is where we are right now, and hopefully seamlessly into recovery," said Lewis Lucke, U.S. special coordinator for relief and reconstruction.
Major relief efforts were launched within hours of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed at least 150,000, devastated the capital of Port-au-Prince and affected a third of its 9 million people. Behind each effort has been cash and contracts, airline tickets to be purchased and ocean freighters to be leased.
Of each U.S. taxpayer dollar, 42 cents funds US AID's disaster assistance -- everything from $5,000 generators to $35 hygiene kits with soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste for a family of five.
Another 33 cents is going to the U.S. military, paying for security, search and rescue teams, and the Navy's hospital ship USNS Comfort.
Just under a dime has already been spent on food: 122 million pounds of pinto beans, black beans, rice, corn soy blend and vegetable oil. When purchased in bulk, the actual food prices are relatively low. Pinto beans, for example, cost the U.S. government 40 cents a pound when purchased in 5 million-pound batches last week.
Getting the food to Haitians -- paying for freighters, trucks and distribution centers, and the people to staff them, took another nine cents from each dollar.
Initial disaster spending was aimed at saving lives; now the spending is shifting to recovery. The Obama administration is putting five cents of each dollar into efforts to pay survivors to work. One program already in place describes paying 40,000 Haitians $3 per day for 20 days to clean up around hospitals and dig latrines. That project also includes renting 10 excavators and loaders, at $600 each, and 10 dump trucks at $50 a load.
Just under one penny of each dollar is going straight to the shattered Haitian government, whose president is sleeping in a tent while struggling to organize an administration that was notoriously unstable even before the earthquake.
The U.S. rarely gives large amounts of money directly to governments, a practice that is "very defensible from my point of view," said John Simon, who coordinated U.S. responses to international disasters under President Bush's administration.
A final half-cent funds three Dominican Republic hospitals near the Haitian border, where refugees have been begging for help.
The U.S. is providing the largest slice of a global response that totals more than $1 billion in government pledges. The European Union's 27 nations are contributing $575 million. The U.S. also has long been the largest donor of ongoing foreign aid that Haiti depends on for up to 40 percent of its budget, with more than $260 million in U.S. money last year aimed at promoting stability, prosperity and democracy.
The money is flowing through federal agencies that administer $2.6 billion already appropriated in the 2010 budget for foreign disaster relief, said Thomas Gavin, a spokesman at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He said there are no plans to ask Congress for more money.
Of the private disaster aid flowing into Haiti, U.S. charities have raised $470 million, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Fisch reported from Port-au-Prince, Mendoza from Mexico City.