5 minute readInternational

13 Facts about the Red Cross Response in Haiti

This post was updated on June 4 to include additional details on spent and committed funds (see the fourth myth/fact pair) and a link to our Myths vs. Facts matrix in French. Please also see a new post by David Meltzer, “The Real Story of the 6 Homes in Haiti: Answering Your Questions.”

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, almost five and a half years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross has made a difference in the lives of millions of Haitians who desperately needed help and humanitarian assistance.

These funds have helped build and operate eight hospitals and clinics, stem a deadly cholera outbreak, provide clean water and sanitation, and move more than 100,000 people out of make-shift tents into safe and improved housing. When land was not available for new homes, the Red Cross provided a range of housing solutions including rental subsidies, repairs and retrofitting of existing structures, fulfilling our promise to ensure tens of thousands of Haitians are back in homes. We also built and repaired schools, roadways and water distribution points vital to neighborhoods.

Read our full statement here. Our Myths vs. Facts matrix (13 Faits au Sujet de l’Aide Humanitaire de la Croix-Rouge Américaine en Haïti) is also available in French. You can also visit redcross.org/haiti to learn more.




The American Red Cross never had a final plan for its work in Haiti. The Red Cross began our long term planning shortly after the earthquake. Within the first year we had a working plan that established six strategic priorities and added a seventh:

  1. Emergency relief
  2. Shelter
  3. Health
  4. Water and sanitation
  5. Livelihoods
  6. Disaster preparedness
  7. Cholera prevention

Haiti is a complex place to work and because of that we needed to adjust and improve the plan to address the changing environment and challenges.

Example: When we could not secure land to provide new housing, we focused on safe housing with a wide spectrum of choices, not a one-size-fits all plan (rental subsidies, repairs and retrofitting of existing homes, as well as teaching people how to repair their homes).


Internal issues delayed services.

  • Staff turnover
  • Lack of planning
  • Poor relationships with partners

  • We have worked effectively, leveraging the capacity and specific skill sets of 47 partners to extend our reach and serve a spectrum of needs simultaneously.
  • Staff turnover was relatively low and, as we understand, consistent with other NGOs in Haiti.
  • The Red Cross continuously responded to changing circumstances by adapting our plan and remaining responsive to emerging and evolving needs.


Red Cross service delivery statistics are misleading.
  • 4.5 million people have been helped through our disease prevention programs. That’s the most conservative estimate of people assisted.  
  • Many who received help through disease prevention programs also benefited from multiple Red Cross services such as housing, job training, and access to clean water, but we only count them once. 
Details of Red Cross spending are so broad as to be useless. 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:

  • Emergency relief: $66 million
  • Shelter: $173 million
  • Health: $73 million
  • Water and sanitation: $47 million
  • Livelihoods: $48 million
  • Disaster preparedness: $56 million
  • Cholera prevention: $25 million
The Red Cross takes overhead, then grants money to partners who also take overhead.
  • 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends goes to our humanitarian programs and services.
  • We partner with organizations that also keep their expenses low. 
  • It is more cost effective to rely on the expertise of partners than if we tried to build and staff these programs from scratch.


The Red Cross gave donor dollars to the U.S. government.
  • It is rare that we would grant money to a government agency, but in this case we pooled funds with the U.S. Agency for International Development – which assesses no overhead – each bringing our expertise and strengths to the project.
The Red Cross president promised to provide tens of thousands of people with permanent homes but only built six new homes.
  • The Red Cross has provided more than 132,000 people with safe and durable housing, through a variety of methods.
  • Often, the fastest and most efficient way to get people into safer homes is through rental subsidies, or repairs and/or retrofitting of existing homes.
  • We also build and repair infrastructure that is vital to neighborhood recovery – like schools, roadways and water distribution points. 
  • The bottom line is that there hasn’t been sufficient land available to build new homes – particularly in the most heavily affected areas of Port-au-Prince where people want to live.
  • Haitians don’t want to leave the neighborhoods where they lived, worked and went to school before the earthquake.
  • Red Cross has fulfilled our promise to make sure tens of thousands of Haitians are back in homes. 
The Red Cross calls temporary, or t-shelters, permanent homes. False.

  • In no place has the Red Cross called a t-shelter a permanent home. We consistently refer to the range of housing solutions that the Red Cross has offered in Haiti to provide people safe housing.
The cholera program had severe delays getting off the ground, despite Gail McGovern’s statement that Red Cross “sprang into action.” False.

  • Within 72 hours of the announcement of the cholera outbreak, teams of Haitian Red Cross volunteers were providing cholera prevention training in camps and staff members were sent to the epicenter of the epidemic to help respond.
  • Within five days, tens of thousands of pounds of cholera relief supplies were airlifted.
  • We have also provided most of the funding for a first-ever cholera vaccine in Haiti, and $47 million for projects to provide clean water.  
The Red Cross didn’t hire enough Haitians on staff, relying heavily on expensive “expat” staff. Wrong. 

  • Since the beginning of our earthquake recovery program, more than 90 percent of our staff has been Haitian.
  • Red Cross does not tolerate prejudice of any kind and took steps to train people in  cultural sensitivity.
  • The American Red Cross has hired some international staff with expertise in major disaster recovery and their benefit package is in line with the international humanitarian sector.
The Red Cross misled residents of LAMIKA by not telling them how much money would be spent there and not fulfilling promises of new homes.
  • We worked very closely with community residents in LAMIKA to keep them informed of plans and budgets, and got their input to decide how to spend funds in their neighborhoods.
  • We initially budgeted for 700 houses to be repaired, retrofitted or built, but we adapted and responded to the fact that clear title to land in the LAMIKA community could ultimately not be obtained.
  • Additionally, residents gave a higher priority to other needs such as roads and pathways, jobs, schools, etc., so we invested in shared community assets such as road, sidewalk, drainage and school construction.
Sources in the Red Cross say that 24 cents of every dollar donated for international programs goes to overhead – not 9 cents.
  • As with every dollar the Red Cross spends, an average of 91 cents goes to our humanitarian programs and services and only 9 cents to management, general and fundraising.
The Red Cross declined to show us projects in Haiti.
  • The Red Cross often arranges interviews for U.S. based media when they are visiting Haiti.
  • Other media outlets routinely provide us with several days of notice before visiting because they understand that our staff members have to stop their work to accommodate journalists.
  • We denied the request of ProPublica and NPR after they showed up in Haiti without making arrangements ahead of time.

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  1. In a nutshell, it seems to appear that The Red Cross is more interested in the PR fallout from this bombshell of a story than actually fixing what this agency needs to address. You might begin with by saying you’re sorry to the people of Haiti.

    Shame on your organization and this recent expose by NPR is not the first time a highlight was focused on how The Red Cross has become an upside down pyramid of bureaucracy. The dollars donated “for the country of Haiti” does not add up or equate to what you have posted as having accomplished with such a formidable sum of money. Call
    This is not the charity I want to support; as there are others that are more transparent and have greater accountability.

  2. The lack of specificity in your response is telling.(Breaking an accounting of disbursement into sectors is not forthcoming). The lack of knowledge of your “efforts” by the Haitians themselves is galling. The PR response by your organization is soporific, while your internal documents are eyeopening. The Red Cross is a cliche of organizational indifference at the top

  3. You refuted the claim that says you only built 6 new homes, but didn’t actually say how many new homes you built. All you said was basically, “we provided some sort of housing” for 132,000 people. Why can’t you be more specific…. How many new homes have you built in Haiti? And… how many PERMANENT homes have you provided people? Just answer the question, don’t slither around questions like a politician. Go back and read your bullet points. You avoid directly responding to myths.

  4. There are so many other organizations that use their money wisely to help people after disasters. I will be donating all future money to Doctors Without Borders. This is just shameful.

  5. OK, then bring out the financial reports. If you have nothing to hide, you should be publishing those immediately, in order to refute NPR’s claims.

  6. This was helpful, thanks for publishing. The NPR story captured the feelings of some of the Haitians involved, but it didn’t have enough facts to be a good, balanced story, in my opinion. The number of times it said “we don’t know” was pretty surprising.

  7. a fifth of the money would provide “tens of thousands of Hatians with permanent housing. Where we develop brand new communities including water and sanitation” -Do you feel you accomplished this?

  8. Your Myth vs Fact report doesn’t address the “myth” that RC only built six new homes in Haiti. If it’s a myth, please detail exactly how many new homes were built, and don’t give us a smokescreen about temporary housing. Donors deserve an answer.

  9. If any nation on earth has first hand knowledge of corruption it’s the nation of Haiti

  10. It has been known almost since immediately after the earthquake that all the “pledges” to aid Haiti never materialized. Apparently natural disasters in foreign countries have become somebody’s new cash cow. Still I though the Red Cross was one of the good guys. But alas it seems they’ve fallen prey to the same oh-so-pervasive fungus of corruption that has infected so many other previously trusted institutions. I am sad and disappointed but not really surprised.

  11. It’s so sad how this country desperately needs help and when people donate money to it, they still get nothing. It really shows the corruption and greed here. These people have nothing and no one will help. Instead you guys are here worried about your reputation. Stop with excuses and get [edited out] going for once, my god. Five years later and all you care about is yourselves. That’s why I’ve never donated to you guys. Can’t be trusted. It’s outrageous that money is raised to help people that genuinely need it and they get nothing out of it. If you want your “good publicity” (don’t lie, you want it more than anything to keep getting donations, keeping people blind) then DO SOMETHING GOOD. What is wrong with you people? Are you seriously this dumb, selfish and corrupt? Keep making little articles to defend yourselves while the people of Haiti suffer. Delete my comment all you want, I just want you to read it and know how much you suck.

  12. Refund my money back, so that I can donate to an honest organization!

  13. I would question some on both sides of these articles. Bottom line for me is that the Red Cross needs to show me proof of the projects accomplished before they receive another dime from me. The one statement that stands out to me is that they made rent subsidy payments. How do you make rent subsidy payments when there are no rental units that are standing. Also the argument to purchase land. If a family has been living there for years and owns the property help the owners of the property build there. Arch homes are available for 10,000 a piece, before any kind of discount for volume. For $25,000 a piece they could have been assembled, hooked to water and sanitation and put the family back in their neighborhood. So for 100,000,000 you could have built 4,000 homes that would last for decades and you still would have had money for your water projects etc…

  14. What is it with commenters? Everybody thinks that they know something based off the NPR scandal-report when all they have is a sound-bite of half truths and innuendo from a so-called journalist. The Red Cross DOES do good and help people. Go ask your local fireman. Go ask the people in OK and TX who are being helped right now. People have their panties in a wad over houses and that isn’t even the mission of the Red Cross. To the critics who want a detailed accounting of the dollars and complain about relief vs overhead ratio: providing you that level of detail is a part of overhead, too. If you don’t want to donate money, that’s fine in my opinion. Why don’t you donate your time and effort as a volunteer and get your hands dirty instead of running your mouth.

  15. TRAVEL to Haiti and SEE the truth for yourself! There will be no doubt in your mind that the Red Cross is doing an excellent job for the people of Haiti. You will realize that the reporter from NPR and the reporter from Pro Publica did not do due diligence in their reporting. Go for yourself to determine the truth and see a BEAUTIFUL country and people. It’s only a short flight from Miami!

  16. Having visited a number of countries in the Caribbean and South America, I have seen some pretty horrific slums. Anyone should soon begin to realize that people are often “squatting” on land they have no legal right to be on. The Red Cross above said that ownership of the land was an issue. So all of you who are criticizing, do you want your donations going to put a home on land the person doesn’t have a legal right to be on? If you build a nice home for a family and the owner of the land comes along and sees the nice house, what are they going to do? Increase the rent probably beyond what the people can afford or throw them out and rent to someone else. In a situation like this, there are far more needs than are ever met. Is trying to ensure that the people of Haiti had healthy drinking water a less worthy use of donated funds then permanent housing? Is increasing their odds of surviving in the short term through good health and drinking water a bad use of funds? Isn’t that exactly where your funds are going to go to if you contribute to Doctors without borders? Also, Red Cross stated that they were able to get “10 of thousands of Haitians into homes”.

    I am not saying Red Cross is perfect, but can’t you at least understand that 99.9% of the people working with and for the Red Cross are doing so because they believe in the mission and have good intentions? That still means that 1 in a 1000 is going to be doing something worth criticizing so if that is what you want to do, if you go seeking an opportunity to write a sensation story, you will be able to do so. The question becomes, did the Red Cross spend the vast majority of the funds in a way to benefit the people of Haiti? Yes, they did.

    How many of the people commenting here have ever been in a disaster zone and in a third world country? Having been in both (not at the same time) I think many of the people commenting don’t really have a clue. The volunteers and staff (boots) on the ground are working amongst chaos to deliver what the clients affected need most. And make no mistake, when you see Red Cross personnel, you are primarily seeing volunteers.

  17. Even after checking the “facts” as posted on Charity Navigator and seeing a “Two Stars” for financials, I’m more and more convinced that the ARC has failed dismally! For most of my adult life, I’ve just “followed the crowd” when it comes to donations; but until and if I see dramatic changes in the organization, I will NEVER donate on cent again!

  18. Please hire a PR person that can state facts in a straight forward manner, many of the “facts” listed above sound as if Hiliary Clinton (or some political Phd candidate) wrote them. FACTS encompass names, numbers and places, not “adapting our plan and remaining responsive to emerging and evolving needs”, this is public relations speak or FLUFF !

  19. Gayle did a nice summary above. The Red Cross has a mission statement: “prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies”. The Red Cross is NOT the long term housing provider. They typically provide clothing, immediate shelter, and food. So building the six houses was above the normal, but providing the tarps, providing clean water to drink are things that immediately alleviate suffering. If the Red Cross had built 50,000 homes in areas where people have no work, or took a year to build them and in the meantime 10,000 died of Cholera, then the Red Cross would have failed. It would not have alleviated human suffering. There are other agencies responsible for the long term improvement of people’s lives in Haiti. But that is not the Red Cross’s role.

  20. Where are the numbers? The Red Cross is doing damage control and it is not effective.

    As I have now discussed with two out of the many groups of seniors I belong to in the Greater Seattle area, I now condemn the American Red Cross as a group who has failed to account for my contributions.

    My father, WWII pilot, did not have good things to say about the Red Cross and their lack of assistance during that war. Then when I was stranded with a couple hundred people in Moses Lake, WA ini 1981 when Mt. St. Helen’s erupted, the Red Cross never showed up. We expected it then, we know better now.

    Summary: DO NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THE AMERICAN RED CROSS. They steal our money, their accountability is lacking, and the American people suffer. Research your nonprofits carefully before adding ANY MONEY TO THE COFFERS OF these people.

  21. I was a Red Cross volunteer for 5 years. I was also in Haiti (not with the ARC), but another small volunteer organization. I also worked for the Red Cross for a short time as a paid contract employee (in Chicago, and during hurricane sandy) and after my experience working with a chapter, I declined an opportunity to stay. Basically, the ARC,s mission is to provide immediate and short term relief, and after that short time FEMA and the government picks up where they leave. And basically, the ARC raises more money than needed for that basic relief. Always. Their mission is smaller than their fundraising success. That is why I left. They were not at all prepared for Haiti, and really should not have been involved. It should have been the IRC that was running that operation, as they are the experts and a completely different organization with a much more fulfilled mission.

  22. Same with hurricane sandy-they raised more money than needed to fulfill their limited mission in a major disaster. Americans just always give to the ARC because they are not fully aware of their limited mission. The ARC does not remove rubble, build houses, or clear roads…they set up shelters to provide temporary housing, food and clothing (for people staying in an ARC shelter) . This is a great mission but again, does not take half a billion $. Truthfully, Their mission is exaggerated in their website, and people are deceived. They are just used to always raising more money that is needed, and that is why they love it most when you donate specifically to their mission , rather than specifically to a certain disaster i.e. Hurricane sandy or Haiti.

    Don’t get me wrong, the American Red Cross is trying to fulfill a good mission, and many people that work for them are heart full volunteers. The staff also there for the goodness of the mission, I am certain, however, their mission is smaller than their fundraising goals. These last three major disasters have shown people this. Made them more aware, and to be honest, unless the ARC does something different, I don’t feel optimistic about their future. Perhaps they should just stick to sheltering, their expertise and make their fundraising goals more realistic to what they provide.