This piece was written by David Meltzer, Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross. He has traveled to Haiti more than 20 times—both before and after the earthquake— including in the days after the disaster struck.
Our objective in all of our humanitarian work is to alleviate suffering of those in need—particularly those most vulnerable. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the needs were great and like other aid groups, we faced difficult choices about where to best spend money as quickly and effectively as possible.
Did the American Red Cross only build “6” new permanent homes? Yes, these were part of a pilot project outside of Port-au-Prince. As the project progressed, we learned a number of lessons that helped us revise our long-term shelter plans. The solutions we decided on ultimately helped more people than can be served through new construction efforts and could be implemented faster, helping people living in camps get back into safer homes and conditions sooner.
Did we plan to build more new homes? Yes, plans for three different communities of new homes funded by the American Red Cross were developed, of which two were outside of Port-au-Prince. In all three cases, there were competing claims of land ownership and clear land title couldn’t be established. We also learned that new housing communities built outside Port-au-Prince often remained unoccupied because people strongly preferred to move back into the neighborhood they lived in before the quake - near their jobs, schools and family.
Did we help 132,000 Haitians obtain safe and improved housing? Yes. In the days following the earthquake, the Red Cross provided emergency shelter in the form of 860,000 tarps to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Of course, living underneath a tarp or tent is only a short term solution, so the American Red Cross developed plans to provide medium- and long-term housing.
Housing a relatively small number of people in newly constructed homes that unfortunately could not be quickly built given the uncertainty of clear land title was inconsistent with our mission to quickly and effectively alleviate suffering. In response to these challenges, the American Red Cross chose to focus its housing work on alternatives that offered many more people the opportunity to move into safe and improved housing. We stand by that decision.
To learn more about our recovery program in Haiti and to hear from those we have helped and continue to help, please visit our Haiti Assistance Program page.
The Red Cross reports annually how we spend donor dollars on our website and break it down according to sector. We raised $488 million for our work in Haiti and here is how our spent and committed funds have been allocated: