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Haiti earthquake: aid money squandered?

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

Larger organizations that have benefited from the generosity of donors are trying to make a tangible difference. In a newly published report, Doctors Without Borders estimated that by October last year it had spent $104 million on disaster response and treated more than 358,000 patients.

BRAC, described as the largest non-profit organization in the world, opened a Limb and Brace Center in Port-au-Prince with help from a $250,000 grant from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, among others. To date, “the fund has raised $52 million in contributions and has committed $20 million to projects,” according to a November statement. The limb center opened in September and has already fitted more than 130 patients with prosthetics and expects to serve some 850 more this year, organizers said.

On a break from unloading boxes of ripe plantains in Paris’ ethnically mixed 18th district, Samy Louis said aid money hasn’t changed anything for his widowed father. He was still living in a tent after his house was crushed in the quake.

Instead of food rations, Louis said, his father receives condoms and water. The 50 to 100 euros he sends every few weeks for his father and two younger siblings is not much, but “I have to do something,” said the 32-year-old who has been in France for six years.

People are asking why the donated money isn't trickling down and being converted into permanent housing, roads, hospitals and schools. Why are people dying by the thousands from cholera, a preventable and treatable disease? Who is in charge of setting the priorities for the country’s reconstruction, such as sewage and waste management?

Rose-Anne Clermont, an author and journalist living in Berlin, described “a tale of two cities” with air-conditioned offices and new computers at rented villas housing the aid agencies, while Haitians forage in the sewers for food.

But she acknowledged she didn’t know of a viable alternative to the international presence that has been so instrumental in keeping the country going.

While in Haiti, she volunteered at The Clermont Center for Homeless Children, an orphanage that cares for some two dozen boys. Her family founded the center in 2003 in the rural town of Jacmel.

Post-earthquake fundraising for the center brought in more than $70,000, all of which can be accounted for, Clermont said, whether it went to purchasing school uniforms, making structural repairs to the earthquake-damaged building or digging water wells.

Major Joseph Bernadel — a founding member of the Haitian Diaspora Federation, a seven-month-old umbrella advocacy body with 47 member groups — said he “resented” the notion that Haitians abroad weren’t doing enough. He also rejected the “unrealistic” expectation that reconstruction should have happened in so little time. Even the United States, with all of its resources, was still trying to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina five years later, he said.

Bernier Lauredan, a New Jersey-based pediatrician who is the federation’s vice president, lamented the lack of clarity about how the aid money was being spent, saying much more needed to be done to engage Haitians in rebuilding their country, especially given their vast cultural knowledge.

“The money given to Haiti is not supporting Haitian organizations doing the work,” said Lauredan, who has traveled to Haiti several times.