Red Cross Raised $488 Million for Haiti … to Build Only Six Homes

I want to believe that there is some other explanation for this situation, but I can’t figure out what that might be. According to a recent report, the Red Cross raised nearly half a billion dollars to aid the reconstruction of Haiti after an earthquake devastated homes in 2010. But since that time, the Red Cross has done almost nothing for Haiti with that money:

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

This does not help me manage my natural cynicism. The whole article chronicling the investigation, by ProPublica and NPR, is worth a read. Basically, the Red Cross ran into so many difficulties actually doing what they said they wanted to do in Haiti that they ended up having far more money than they could practically use to help rebuild. They raised more money than any other charity, far more than they needed to do the work they actually know how to do: provide emergency relief, food, and water.

They really didn’t know how to build homes for Haitians, apparently. But they raised money to do it anyway. A lot of money. And it didn’t hurt that this extra money helped wipe out a $100 million deficit.

When building projects stalled out, the Red Cross was left scrambling to find a way to spend millions they really didn’t need (according to internal emails acquired during the investigation). And all along, the Red Cross has publically boasted about the extraordinary work it is accomplishing in Haiti. And most of us believe it. Why?

We want to believe it. We wanted to help Haiti, and we gave money. We want to know for our own conscience’s sake that the money we gave actually did some good. Are we going to travel to Haiti to make sure? Probably not. Red Cross knows this. Throughout the investigation, they declined to show the investigators any of the work they had done rebuilding in Haiti (probably because there was nothing to show).

What we need is less general good will, and more local, practical charity. General good will and centralized charity creates this kind of corruption and waste. Pretty much every time. Whether it is the civil government or some multi-national “charity,” the story is the same. And it’s sad.