For all the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that have gone to Haiti after the 8.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 and leveled an already decrepit infrastructure, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of headway happening. Some 1.3 million people are still living in tents or on the streets and now a cholera epidemic is taking more lives. Obviously, the frustration both inside and outside the country is mounting, and people are wondering why – with all the aid, resources, and assistance flowing into the country, why isn’t it helping?
One word: Corruption. For far longer than the earthquake, Haiti has been a country riddled with corruption. Talk to leaders running humanitarian organizations, talk to journalists, or talk to everyday people and you get the same story – corruption is killing the recovery. I saw it when I was filming there more than 25 years ago, and you can still see it today.
That’s why it’s so hard to figure out why the United States and other countries who are pouring millions into the country won’t take a stronger position on the issue.
I spoke to a friend who heads a large orphanage in the country and she told me that corruption is stopping enormous amounts of her supplies. She has shipping containers coming into the country filled with food, medicine, and other critical supplies. They get delivered to her property, but can’t be opened until she pays a government official a bribe to make it happen. The Wall Street Journal has corroborated that story from others as well. The Rand Corporation reports that shipping through Haiti’s port costs about 35% more than developed countries. As reported in the Journal, former Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph – who resigned in August – said, “The corruption situation in the ports was one of the major reasons I decided I could no longer defend this government.”
Even the TV program 60 Minutes reported that 6 containers heading to an NGO with building supplies was “stuck” in the port for more than 6 months and was only released after a $6,000 “storage fee” was paid.
It appears that Washington, other countries, and the United Nations have all refused to step in and act on this corruption. We keep shoveling money with much of it being diverted by corruption. Maybe it’s time we called our representatives in Washington and forced them to act.
Unless we do, it appears Haiti will only continue with “business as usual.”