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October 20, 2010

Haiti awaiting $1.15 billion in U.S. rebuild money

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived.

The money was pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in March for use this year in rebuilding. The U.S. has already spent more than $1.1 billion on post-quake relief, but without long-term funds, the reconstruction of the wrecked capital cannot begin.

With just a week to go before fiscal 2010 ends, the money is still tied up in Washington.

At fault: bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency, The Associated Press learned.

One senator has held up a key authorization bill because of a $5-million provision he says will be wasteful.

Meanwhile, deaths in Port-au-Prince are mounting, as quake survivors scramble to live without shelter or food.

“There are truly lives at stake, and the idea that folks are spending more time finger-pointing than getting this solved is almost unbelievable,” said John Simon, a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union who is now with the Center for Global Development, a Washington think-tank .

Nor is Haiti getting much from other donors. Some 50 other nations and organizations pledged a total of $8.75 billion for reconstruction, but just $686 million of that has reached Haiti so far - less than 15 per cent of the total promised for 2010-11.

The lack of funds has all but halted reconstruction work by CHF International, the primary U.S.-funded group assigned to remove rubble and build temporary shelters. Just two per cent of rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built - less than 10 per cent of the number planned.

The Maryland-based agency is asking the U.S. government for $16.5 million to remove more than 21 million cubic feet of additional rubble and build 4,000 more temporary houses out of wood and metal.

In Washington there is confusion about the money. At a July hearing, Ravij Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, thanked members of Congress for approving the funds, saying, “The resources are flowing and are being spent in country.”

It wasn’t true then, and still hasn’t happened.

When the earthquake hit, U.S. agencies sent troops, rescuers, aid workers and supplies to the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.

On March 24, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $2.8 billion in emergency aid to Haiti - about half to pay back money already spent by USAID, the Defence Department and others. An additional $212 million was to write off debt.

The heart of the request was $1.15 billion in new reconstruction funds.

A week later, Clinton touted that figure in front of representatives of 50 nations at the U.N. secretariat, the president of Haiti at her side.

“If the effort to rebuild is slow or insufficient, if it is marked by conflict, lack of co-ordination or lack of transparency, then the challenges that have plagued Haiti for years could erupt with regional and global consequences,” Clinton said.

That was nearly six months ago.

It took until May for the Senate to pass a supplemental request for the Haiti funds and until July for the House to do the same.

The votes made $917 million available but did not dictate how or when to spend it. Without that final step, the money remains in the U.S. Treasury.

Then came summer recess, emergencies in Pakistan and elsewhere, and the distractions of election politics.

Now the authorization bill that would direct how the aid is delivered remains sidelined by a senator who anonymously pulled it for further study.

Through calls to dozens of senators’ offices, the AP learned it was Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

“He is holding the bill because it includes an unnecessary senior Haiti co-ordinator when we already have one” in U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said.

The bill proposes a new co-ordinator in Washington who would not oversee U.S. aid but would work with the USAID administrator in Washington to develop a rebuilding strategy.

The position would cost $1 million a year for five years, including salaries and expenses for a staff of up to seven people.

With the bill on hold, the State Department is trying to move the money along by avoiding Congress as much as possible.

It sent lawmakers a “spending plan” on Sept. 20 and gave legislators 15 days to review it. If they fail to act on the plan, the money could be released as soon as specific projects get the OK.

Associated Press

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