Long history of inefficiency
For centuries, Haiti has suffered from colonial rule, enslavement and crushing debt – it’s essentially a permanent welfare state. Some 80 percent of Haitians subsist on less than US$2 per day, and departments such as Grand’Anse and Sud, which were particularly hard-hit during the storm, are at the bottom end of the economic spectrum. With this year’s harvest destroyed, locals are scavenging for fallen fruit, as the specter of widespread famine lurks in the wings.
“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” said Kathy Fulton, executive director of the ALAN aid group. “The problems are longitudinal. It’s going to take a significant effort, not just from going in and providing aid, but by putting systems in place that rise up from within the country.”
On a systemic level, the disaster relief community is battling inefficiency and overreach that can cripple ongoing efforts. Disaster relief is one of the largest unregulated sectors in the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars spent with little accountability. Billions went missing in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Organizations operating in Haiti are often fractured, and face daunting costs as they attempt to deliver aid and personnel to areas without basic infrastructure, while facing bureaucratic impediments on the ground that could cost lives if aid groups can’t find alternatives.
For instance, in Beaumont, Dr. Brugmann complained that a ban by the Haitian government on makeshift shelters was causing extensive hardship and propagating homelessness. According to the government, the existence of tarps highlights the country’s failure to rebuild. But simply banning materials is not a long-term solution, and an illicit tarp trade has sprung up.
Michael Rettig, who runs LIFT, one of three nonprofits involved in the operation, lamented that “60 to 80 percent of dollars that are spent on disaster aid are spent on logistics.” Further complicating matters, organizations often don’t cooperate and, at times, compete for supplies and services.