Haiti Needs Help From All Of Us

Haiti has been rocked by another devastating disaster, Hurricane Matthew, damaging 80 percent of the homes in the southwest part of the country. The American Red Cross is rushing much-needed relief supplies to the more than 61,000 residents displaced by the devastation.
10/11/2016 01:56 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2017

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, in which more than 200,000 lives were lost and approximately 1.5 million people became homeless, the American people opened their hearts and donated generously to help save lives. Thanks to these donations, the American Red Cross responded with lifesaving aid, providing food, water, medical care, emergency shelter, cash grants, and other essentials to millions of people.

I'll never forget my first visit to Haiti, just a few days after the earthquake struck in 2010. The extent of the devastation, the injuries, death and chaos were indescribable. In the many subsequent visits I've made to Haiti since my initial trip, I think I've felt every possible emotion: frustration, pride, deep sadness, and joy. But what continues to stick with me the most from those visits is the resiliency and determination of the Haitian people. They are truly inspiring.

Now Haiti has been rocked by another devastating disaster, Hurricane Matthew, damaging 80 percent of the homes in the southwest part of the country. The American Red Cross, working with the Haitian Red Cross and other aid organizations, is rushing much-needed relief supplies to the more than 61,000 residents displaced by the devastation. We have more than 200 staff in Haiti, about 80 percent of whom are Haitian, and we are distributing hygiene kits, cooking kits, and cholera-prevention kits. We are also playing a key coordination role with local authorities and international aid organizations.

Once again, the needs are great, but this time, persistent myths circulating online about the American Red Cross response to the 2010 earthquake could cause generous donors to question whether to give and make it harder for us to help the Haitian people. It could even erode trust in foreign aid in general. That would be a tragedy for Haiti.

The Myth of the Six Homes

The most persistent myth is that the American Red Cross "raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and built six homes." This was the misleading headline of a story written by ProPublica and NPR in 2015, which made the rounds then and is doing so again in the wake of this latest disaster. It creates the false impression that the only thing the American Red Cross did with $488M in donor money was to build six homes - when, in fact, we have funded 100 different humanitarian aid projects in Haiti.

So where did the six homes come from? Like other aid organizations in Haiti, we had hoped to find land to construct new homes, and, yes, we did build six homes as part of a pilot project outside of Port-au-Prince. But competing claims of land ownership prevented us and other aid groups from building homes in places where people wanted to live - near their jobs, homes and families. In addition, the Government of Haiti asked us to focus on alternative housing solutions--rather than build new homes from the ground up.

As a result, we invested in other housing solutions--like rental subsidies, home repair, and home expansion to increase the country's rental stock since most Haitians were renters before the earthquake. We and our partners also built more than 6,000 transitional homes that are still standing years later. Many have been expanded into permanent homes and are more durable than many of the homes Haitians lived in before the earthquake. In total, we have helped more than 135,000 people through housing and neighborhood recovery.

The solutions we decided on ultimately helped more people living in poor conditions in camps get back into safer and better housing sooner. In fact, the U.S. Government's own new housing program for Haiti fell years behind schedule and saw its costs skyrocket. Had the Red Cross invested more resources in building new homes, our costs would likely have skyrocketed as well and faced extensive delays.

The Myth about Where the Money Went

Another myth created by the ProPublica/NPR story is that Red Cross cannot account for the money we spent. This, again, is not true. All the money donated for Haiti was placed in a Haiti-only account and 91 cents of every dollar was invested in programs to help the people of Haiti. Only nine cents of every dollar was spent on overall management, general and fundraising - sometimes called overhead.

Today, all of the $488 million donated to Haiti has been fully committed to ongoing projects -- with more than 90 percent of it spent. Our website redcross.org/Haiti has a complete breakdown of our spending, including a description of all the projects we are funding, the organizations which have helped with our essential work, and how much each project cost.

Donations from the American public gave people help--and they gave people hope. In spite of ongoing needs and challenges, Haiti's GDP has grown 34% since 2010 and improved sanitation, access to clean water, and cholera prevention efforts have reduced cholera rates by 97 percent since 2011. More children are in school compared to pre-quake levels, and the city of Port-au-Prince has been vastly improved since the earthquake.

But some of this progress - especially with regard to cholera - is threatened unless aid organizations can raise the funds necessary to meet the new needs brought on by Hurricane Matthew. It would be a shame if myths circulated online by people who want to help Haiti, actually end up hurting relief efforts.

There are more needs in Haiti than any one organization can meet, and more organizations than the American Red Cross to support. So donate to the charity of your choice, but please donate.