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Haiti today: Notes from David Ono Pt. 4, Follow the money

July 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
[Editor's note: David Ono from ABC7 Eyewitness News recently returned to Haiti to see what progress has been made six months after the earthquake. Ono's reports reveal a side to Haiti that very few people are talking about. Watch what happens when Ono returns to Haiti, all week at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Eyewitness News. This is the fourth of five notebook entries from Ono's trip.]

I think a vast majority of people regard themselves as being good. They want to help when their fellow man is in distress. So when we are bombarded with these frightening images from Haiti, it stirs the desire in us to come to the rescue.

For most, the best way we can do that is to simply donate money. It's the closest thing we can get to busting down the door and carrying the helpless person out of the burning building.

Unfortunately, the Haiti disaster is rewiring our thoughts about helping others.

We collectively have donated hundreds of millions. It's actually billions if you count what our government has pledged. Yet one-and-a-half million Haitians are starving, malnourished, and still living in squalid, disgusting camps.

It's made so many Americans angry. They feel they have been duped, taken advantage of, and that our hard-earned dollars may never be used as we intended.

And sadly, because the situation is so confusing, it's difficult to know where to direct our anger. Is it the Haitian government? The aid organizations? Our government? Everybody?

Or is this disaster so enormous the money isn't enough to make a discernable difference?

It is supremely complicated but, at the risk of over-simplifying and perhaps doing more harm than good, here are a couple of key points that I've learned:

The Haitian government has no transparency. It will not tell you what money it has and how it's going to be used. That's nothing new and more than likely is not going to change. This is why so many accuse the Haitian government of corruption. So if money goes directly to the Haitian government, like the $5.3 billion pledged by the various countries of the world (including the U.S.) it's going to be extremely difficult getting an accurate accounting of what that money is being used for.

On the other hand, if you donated to a reputable charity like the Red Cross, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and many others, you can get an accounting of where the money is going. While some, like Doctors Without Borders, have spent almost everything they've been given (given $122 million/spent $120 million), others like The Red Cross, haven't spent even half the money they've been given (given $460 million/spent $149 million).

It sounds absurd that the Red Cross is holding on to its money while people are sick, starving and suffering in those camps. But there's an explanation -- housing. The charities need to reserve an enormous amount to help people relocate from those horrible tent cities into more permanent homes. The delay comes from Haiti. It has not yet freed up land to build on. A few rich families own a majority of Haiti and they will not relinquish any of it for indigent people to live on. As a result, everything is in a holding pattern and the Haitian government doesn't seem motivated enough to force a solution.

The result is the current quagmire that has Haitians suffering and Americans angry.

My concern is what this will do to us the next time there's a huge disaster. I've heard so many people say they will never again be "fooled" into giving money.

Question: If a building is burning and you hear someone screaming for help what will you do? Suddenly the answer is not so simple.


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