by Gail McGovern
A year ago, Americans responded with incredible generosity to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Despite a struggling economy, some 40 percent of American households contributed to help Haiti. At the American Red Cross, we received donations ranging from million dollar gifts from corporations, to a crumpled dollar bill a child had received from the tooth fairy.
A year later, seeing photos and television images of how bad things still are in Haiti, Americans may wonder if their contributions have done any good, or if there is any hope for Haiti. As someone who has made multiple trips to Haiti, I can assure them the answer is yes.
Like many, I wish the pace of progress in Haiti was faster. I want to see every Haitian living in permanent homes, having robust livelihoods, and thriving in vibrant communities. Instead, more than a million people are still living under tarps and tents, while the Haitian government – which also was affected by the earthquake – works to sort through land ownership issues.
But the fact is the money Americans gave after the earthquake literally kept hundreds of thousands of Haitians alive. It has helped them survive until more permanent homes and infrastructure can be built. And it has been critically important in responding to the cholera outbreak, a hurricane and other challenges Haiti has faced since the earthquake.
The American Red Cross received about $479 million in donations for Haiti, more than $32 million of which was raised from text messaging at $10 a text. At the one-year mark, we have spent or have signed contracts to spend more than half of that amount – $245 million.
Most of that money has provided emergency relief:
- Food for more than a million people at the height of the earthquake response
- Clean, drinkable water for hundreds of thousands every day
- Tents and tarps to protect more than 860,000 people from the blazing sun and drenching rains
- Business loans and grants to help 220,000 earn a living
- A vaccination campaign inoculating nearly 1 million men, women and children against deadly diseases.
Thanks to our donors, the American Red Cross also has been able to keep the doors open for two important hospitals: the largest public hospital in Port-au-Prince and the only critical care and trauma center in Haiti. We also are funding the rebuilding of a prosthetics clinic.
The Red Cross and its partners are beginning to build brightly colored transitional homes, a vivid sign of progress and hope for the future. In many instances, these shelters are being built by people from the community as part of our cash-for-work program, which teaches skills and puts money in the hands of Haitians. Overall, we will be building shelters for more than 32,000 people and are budgeting $100 million to $150 million to construct permanent homes.
At this point, progress is still hard to see, and every time I’ve gone to Haiti, I’ve experienced nearly every emotion: deep sadness and despair but also pride, joy and hope.
But I have to keep reminding myself that Haiti was a very poor country before this devastating earthquake. In many cases, aid groups are not rebuilding Haiti – they are building some of the infrastructure for the first time.
Clearly the needs in Haiti, estimated at more than $12 billion, are more than any one aid group can meet. Yet amidst all of the hardship remains hope.
Just one month after the earthquake, I saw small businesses that women and men set up in their makeshift tents – a small hair salon, a manicurist, a tiny restaurant with only one table-for-two.
I am confident that with the kind of generosity displayed by the American people, the fortitude and determination of the Haitian people and the heroic efforts of our Red Cross workers, other aid organizations and governments like ours who are helping, there is hope for the people of Haiti.
Gail J. McGovern is president and CEO of the American Red Cross.