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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Red Cross should explain its failures in Haiti

Market vendors sell their wares alongside and underneath the remains of an earthquake-destroyed building in the Grand Rue area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this month.
Market vendors sell their wares alongside and underneath the remains of an earthquake-destroyed building in the Grand Rue area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this month.
Published Jun. 19, 2015

When Americans donate money to the Red Cross, they trust the charity to use their money wisely and they expect results. But a recent investigation by National Public Radio and ProPublica revealed that the Red Cross squandered $488 million intended for Haiti relief and left Haitians floundering in a country still recovering from a massive 2010 earthquake. Instead of denying the findings, the Red Cross should accept responsibility, acknowledge its mistakes and take steps to restore its credibility.

The American Red Cross claims to have sheltered 130,000 people in Haiti, but NPR and ProPublica reports that the organization built only six permanent homes. In some programs, roughly a third of the money the charity received went to administrative and management costs for other groups helping to provide aid in Haiti. A January 2015 message from CEO Gail McGovern said that the charity had "impacted" more than 4.5 million Haitians, but former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says this number is unlikely. The entire urban population of Haiti in 2010 was 4.5 million. The Red Cross says it poured $24 million into one of its primary rehabilitation projects, Campeche, but it has little to show for it. Campeche has no running water and its residents still live in tents.

Yet the Red Cross continues to deny that its efforts in Haiti were unsuccessful, despite NPR and ProPublica's considerable evidence. Instead, it has responded on its website with statements claiming the article had mistakes. In one, the charity claims it "provided more than 132,000 people with safe and durable housing," while in another the American Red Cross' chief international officer, David Meltzer, admits it built only "six new permanent homes." The charity stands by its 4.5 million people statistic, insisting that this is in fact "the most conservative estimate of people assisted."

Assisting Haiti is no doubt difficult. The Red Cross cites the continuing cholera outbreak and an archaic land title system as obstacles holding up recovery. While these are complications, they do not explain away independent findings that the organization had little impact. It is not unreasonable for donors to expect better results for their generous contributions.

The American Red Cross' first priority should be helping people on the ground, not raising its profile in the media. It should be forthright in acknowledging its failures and redouble efforts to improve its follow-through. As a brand-name international organization known for its good works, the Red Cross should set an example for other charities, not be a cautionary tale for potential donors who expect to see their charitable contributions produce better results.