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A continuing effort to answer an elusive, multi-billion-dollar question: "After Haiti's devastating earthquake, where did the aid money go?"

Haiti: Two years after the earthquake, where did the money go?

Chapter One: A fractured path from donors' purses to actual rebuilding efforts — and back again.

was producing just about all of its own rice. Now more than 60 percent is imported from the US, making it the fourth largest recipient of American rice exports in the world. That was before the quake and now with donated rice coming in as well, Haiti is even more awash in rice while American agribusiness makes billions of dollars every year through generous government subsidies.

There is perhaps some bitter irony here that the subsidies were promoted in large part by President Clinton to help his home state of Arkansas, the largest rice producing state in the US, thereby crippling a sector of the economy in Haiti where Clinton has worked so tirelessly to help with the recovery.

“You might say it is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with aid to Haiti,” says Marc Cohen, a senior researcher for Oxfam, one of the largest non-government organizations (NGOs) in the world, which raised approximately $106 million for a three-year response in Haiti and finds itself struggling to deliver the aid effectively.

“Instead of bringing subsidized rice in on ships from Miami, we could be helping Haiti grow rice in its own fields,” adds Cohen, who worked for many years in Haiti with the International Food Policy Research Institute and studied the broad economic impact of US rice subsidies, or "Miami rice," as it is known here.

Cohen was part of a team at Oxfam America that this week delivered a scathing report on how reconstruction in Haiti was proceeding at a “snail’s pace,” leaving half a million Haitians still homeless two years after the quake. It urged the Haitian government and donor countries to accelerate the delivery of funds for reconstruction. It applauded the initial emergency relief effort, but said the Haitian government and donor countries have failed to come up with a coordinated strategy to rebuild the country and house the more than 500,000 people still living in tents and under tarpaulins without access to running water, a toilet or a doctor.

According to recently published reports by Oxfam, the UN, the US Government Accountability Office and international aid experts interviewed by GlobalPost, billions of dollars of aid were pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction, but promises of funding have not translated into money on the ground. According to the UN report, as of the end of September 2011, donors had disbursed just 43 percent of the total $4.6 billion pledged for reconstruction in 2010 and 2011.

Officials heading up USAID’s efforts in Haiti say they are frustrated by the political and practical realities that slow the pace of reconstruction. They point to costly and painful failures such as the lack of preparedness for the cholera outbreak which still looms over Haiti. But they also point to hard-fought successes particularly in agriculture, where the average salary of a farmer has risen from $600 a year to $1,100 a year through improved irrigation and infrastructure which have resulted in higher yields.

Elizabeth Hogan, Director of Haiti Task Team for USAID, told GlobalPost, “Fixing Haiti is not something that can be done in the short term. It requires Haitians to take ownership of fixing their own country and their own problems with the support of the international community and increasingly private investment.”

A "star-crossed" history

Haiti is a formerly French colonial island nation occupying a little less than half of the Caribbean island originally called Hispanola (the other half of the island, the Dominican Republic, is a former Spanish colony).

Haiti’s capital and gravitational center, Port-au-Prince, is said to be named for the French sailing ship, Prince, which pulled into the island’s harbor in 1706. The island soon became a critical stop in the slave trade in the Americas, with Port-au-Prince being one of the most popular hubs. The colonial overseers grew rich, exporting sugar and coffee to the world.

Because of this history of slavery and repression, some Haitians believe their island is cursed. By 1793, and due somewhat to the slave trade — not to mention a wide-ranging naval war between Britain and France — a British ship called the HMS Hankey, sailing out of West Africa, arrived in Port-au-Prince, carrying with it some West Africans and some British citizens who had been unsuccessful in colonizing a West