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Haiti earthquake: aid money squandered?

As rebuilding moves slowly, Haitians worldwide ask what happened to the billions in aid.

Haiti earthquake aid, Doctors Without Borders
Cholera patients receive treatment at St. Marc's hospital, where Doctors Without Borders set up an emergency program. (Renaud Philippe/GlobalPost)

PARIS, France — It's the most persistent question in the minds of Haitians worldwide: Where has all the money gone?

One year after Haiti's earthquake, the diaspora of some 4.5 million Haitians is still consumed with worry for their families and loved ones.

Those who have traveled to Haiti struggle to see tangible signs of how the billions in aid money have helped Haitians rebuild their lives.

“We struggle every day with this question and we are frustrated with the slow pace,” said Jean-Claude Fignole, country director for ActionAid Haiti, at a gathering in Boston in December.

He estimated that less than 15 percent of the total aid the international community committed to Haiti has actually been delivered.

“We have to be involved in our own recovery and lead the reconstruction process,” he told the group.

It is a message that resonates with Haitians around the world.

“People are living just like you live in hell,” said Klebert Etienne, who works in real estate in Boston but has been traveling to Haiti as a missionary for the last 20 years. “There is no way to explain it.”

Etienne was last there in July to deliver food, clothes and the gospel. He said “people live worse than animals” in tent camps. What’s worse, the 58-year-old said, it feels like, “the country is on it’s own.”

Verdieu LaRoche, pastor of the 40-year-old First Haitian Baptist Church in Boston, travels to Haiti regularly and was last there in November. He said he saw people living in squalor on top of one another in the nation’s capital. More than 1.2 million people remain in temporary shelters.

“Humans are not supposed to live like that,” he said.

Scarce information about where donated funds have ended up coupled with what people see on the ground fuels speculation and suspicion. Stories of aid workers riding around in brand new SUVs have been repeated so often in the Haitian community, they’ve become synonymous with the perceived unfairness in who has benefited from the aid.

At a donor’s conference in March, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Haiti's reconstruction needs would total an estimated $11.5 billion over the next 10 years. The conference was hailed a success, with the international community pledging nearly $10 billion over several years. The United States committed the largest chunk.

“That’s what fuels the cynicism,” said Donald LaRoche a 39-year-old lawyer and son of the Boston pastor. “Money is coming into the country but it is not being dispersed.”