Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti Update: Day 14

In the two weeks since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, the densely populated capital of Haiti, hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions have poured in from individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments around the globe for relief and recovery efforts, multiple news sources report.

Already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, the Caribbean nation, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, faces innumerable long-term challenges, including the cleaning up and rebuilding of its most populous city, the reconstitution of its crippled government, and the provision of food, shelter, and other basic needs to hundreds of thousands of individuals — many of them children — left homeless by the disaster. At the same time, medical care for the sick and injured remains in short supply, resulting in a death toll that continues to rise daily. Earlier this week, the Haitian government put the number of deaths from the disaster at 112,250, with an additional 194,000 people injured. Many aid workers suggest that the real toll may be higher, however, and the exact number may never be known.

As the extent of the damage caused by the January 12 quake became evident, international aid groups responded by issuing appeals for donations and sending workers to the disaster zone or mobilizing staff already in-country. And despite formidable logistical challenges that slowed the delivery of food and supplies to Port-au-Prince for more than a week, the American Red Cross, UN World Food Program, and other agencies were getting desperately needed supplies to the disaster zone and distributing food and clean water to hundreds of thousands of people a day by the end of week two.

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Mobile Giving Foundation, contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations to Haiti relief efforts had topped $517.5 million as of Tuesday — with at least $33 million of that raised via text-message campaigns. Friday's Hope for Haiti Now telethon further boosted individual contributions to aid agencies, bringing in more than $61 million via phone, Internet, and text message, as well as additional corporate donations and the proceeds from the sale of an iTunes recording of the star-studded event. A number of celebrities also have stepped up with major gifts, including $3 million from golfer Tiger Woods, $1.5 million from supermodel Gisele Bundchen, $1 million from actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and $1 million from a foundation launched by actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

The corporate response to the disaster was swift and robust. According to the Business Civic Leadership Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, within three days of the quake U.S.-based corporations had donated over $43 million to relief efforts — a number that had grown to more than $122 million by day fourteen. At the same time, several foundations announced large contributions to short- and long-term recovery efforts; they include the Open Society Institute ($4 million), the California Community Foundation ($2 million), the Carnegie Corporation of New York ($2 million), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.5 million), the Ford Foundation ($1 million), and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($500,000).

For their part, the world's governments have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to Haiti — including $500 million from the European Union, $135 million from Canada, and an initial $100 million from the United States. Commitments of $100 million also were made by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, many economists and development experts have called on the world's wealthiest nations to forgive Haiti's foreign debt, and a handful of countries have agreed to do so.

But while many Haitians are concerned that funds committed to long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts will be misappropriated by a government that ranks among the world's most corrupt and least effective, the international community has made it clear that it plans to be there for the hard-luck country over the long haul.

"It [is] not an exaggeration to say that at least ten years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti," said Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper at a conference of government representatives in Montreal this week. "We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible."

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