News and analysis
January 06, 2011

American Donors Gave $1.4-Billion to Haiti Aid

CHF International

A cholera epidemic is one of the major obstacles facing charities that are working to help Haiti recover from its devastating earthquake a year ago.

In the year after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, Americans gave more than $1.4-billion to aid survivors and help the impoverished country rebuild, according to a Chronicle survey of 60 major relief organizations. Roughly 38 percent of that sum has been spent to provide recovery and rebuilding aid.

The outpouring, while generous, fell short of the $1.6-billion Americans contributed in the year after the South Asian tsunamis and the staggering $3.3-billion they donated in the 12 months following Hurricane Katrina.

Distribution of Funds

The share of Haiti donations that has been spent is roughly the same as the amount spent one year after the tsunamis. A year after Hurricane Katrina, charities had spent about 80 percent of donations.

But the percentage of funds spent in Haiti varies widely among organizations.

While a few charities have distributed all the money they raised, others have big sums still on hand. For example, by the end of November, the American Red Cross, in Washington, had committed $188-million of its $479-million in private donations. It expects to have committed $245-million by the one-year anniversary of the earthquake this month.

Concern About Spending

The unspent funds have fueled criticism that charities are moving too slowly in the rebuilding effort.

“There is a huge amount of frustration and a lot of talk about what is the impact of the hundreds of millions that have been raised,” says Wendy Flick, manager of the Haiti emergency-response program at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, in Cambridge, Mass, which has spent about a quarter of the $1.9-million it received.

Experts on disaster recovery, however, say the rate of spending has been appropriate. If anything, relief workers may be tempted to spend too fast because of public pressure, they say.

There are some environments in which you just can’t spend a lot of money quickly. And Haiti is one of them,” says Peter Walker, director of Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center, in Medford, Mass. “If you want to fuel corruption, then sure, go ahead and pump a huge amount of money in.”