HBO’s Vice Follows the Money in Haiti

by Center for
Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
Vikram Gandhi,
VICE on HBO correspondent traveled to Haiti to see just what happened with the
$10 billion in aid pledged after the earthquake that occurred more than five
years ago. The episode aired at 11 PM EST on Apr. 24.
            In a sneak peek, Gandhi goes to the site of a housing expo held in 2011. Organized by the
Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Bill Clinton, the expo was meant
to showcase model homes that could be built across the country. With more than
a million made homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged or
destroyed, providing new housing was seen as key to
“building back better.”
            “If we do this housing properly, it
will lead to whole new industries being started in Haiti, creating thousands
and thousands of new jobs and permanent housing,” Clinton stated after the
            But, as Gandhi shows, the expo never
had the intended impact. Instead, the homes were abandoned and left to decay.
Now, years later, the model houses have been occupied by residents, creating a
new community in the rubble of the international community’s broken promises.
            Gandhi speaks with CEPR Research
Associate Jake Johnston, who explains how the U.S.’ premier aid agency, USAID,
had an ambitious plan to build some 15,000 houses.
But while costs nearly doubled to over $90 million, currently only 2,600 are
planned and only 900 have been built thus far. USAID is no longer involved in
new housing construction.
            Seven hundred and fifty of the 900
houses were built far from the earthquake, in Caracol, the site of the
international community’s flagship reconstruction project, the Caracol
Industrial Park. Since the filming of the VICE investigation, more information has to come to light about the
houses in Caracol. While residents are being asked to pay rent and eventually
take ownership of the houses, internal assessments conducted by the Army Corp
of Engineers and USAID revealed that the houses were poorly constructed, with substandard concrete,
roofs that are not properly attached and broken sanitation system that causes
sewage to flood the area during rains. Both USAID contractors involved have been suspended from receiving further
contracts while a legal investigation is being conducted.
            With only around 9,000 new homes
built by international donors and NGOs since the earthquake, hundreds of
thousands of residents have taken to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, to an
area known as Canaan, without government services or infrastructure of any
kind. While little has been done to address the burgeoning crisis, from the
hills of Canaan, one can see a new $18 million sports complex built by the
Olympic Committee.
            Johnston tells Gandhi that while
billions were spent, much of the funds went to the short-term emergency
response, which left little lasting impact. Meanwhile, Haitian organizations
were largely bypassed in favor of beltway firms. “The big question that’s been
on everyone’s mind is where did the money go? And I think that’s when we enter
this sort of ‘black box’,” Johnston says in the episode. “For
every dollar that USAID spends, less than a penny actually goes directly to any
Haitian organizations,” he added.

            Yesterday, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an interview with Gandhi. “Do we understand
what aid is, for real? And is there really a system of accountability that is
out there?” Mr. Gandhi told The
“I think the answer is no, after being in Haiti and seeing
how money was spent there.”