Yesterday, while commenting on non-governmental organizations and aid issues in the Third World, I said:
[Other NGO's] would raise, and expend, a great deal of money with little or nothing to show for it in terms of concrete, worthwhile results. (The Red Cross, sad to say, was and still is notorious for this among people who truly know what goes on under such circumstances.)
Some readers were upset about this, claiming that the Red Cross did very good and very important work, and that my comments were unwarranted. I'm afraid that's simply not true. For example, in an in-depth investigation of the Red Cross's efforts in Haiti, NPR claimed:
When a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti in 2010, millions of people donated to the American Red Cross. The charity raised almost half a billion dollars. It was one of its most successful fundraising efforts ever.
The American Red Cross vowed to help Haitians rebuild, but after five years the Red Cross' legacy in Haiti is not new roads, or schools, or hundreds of new homes. It's difficult to know where all the money went.
. . .
The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six.
. . .
The organization, which in 2010 had a $100 million deficit, out-raised other charities by hundreds of millions of dollars — and kept raising money well after it had enough for its emergency relief. But where exactly did that money go?
Ask a lot of Haitians — even the country's former prime minister — and they will tell you they don't have any idea.
There's much more at the link. It's well worth reading this highly detailed report in full. It doesn't detail precisely how the money was spent, but according to information at my disposal, less than ten per cent reached Haiti in any form whatsoever - and much of that went to other aid organizations, who siphoned off most of it for their own 'administrative costs'. I know that Red Cross supplies were on sale in local markets within hours of their arriving on the island - a fact attested to by many aid workers and military servicemen who were there. (A later US Senate investigation confirmed many details from NPR's investigation, and added new complaints.)
In a background piece explaining why and how NPR went about its investigation, an NPR correspondent responded to several questions.
What made you decide to look into the American Red Cross's earthquake recovery spending in Haiti?
I spent a lot of time last fall with Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger from ProPublica looking at some of the problems the American Red Cross ran into in its disaster response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and found the charity had put this inordinate focus on public relations that really hurt its effort to provide disaster relief. We found in one case the Red Cross diverted 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences and in another case drove empty trucks around to make it appear as though services were being delivered. After those stories, we started to hear from people about things that went down in Haiti. At the same time we started noticing that the numbers it was giving the public about how it spent donors' money didn't make sense. Since then the Red Cross has changed the language it uses around those figures. So with that in mind, we really started looking at the spending the Red Cross did in Haiti.
While you were working on this investigation, if someone asked you over dinner "What's going on with all that money raised by the Red Cross to rebuild Haiti?" was there one anecdote that just immediately jumped to mind for you?
I found myself saying the same thing over and over again: The Red Cross spent five years and almost half a billion dollars in Haiti — and built six homes. That seemed to sum up the situation a bit.
Again, more at the link.
After these and earlier complaints about the US Red Cross (which Pro Publica describes as having been the victim of a 'corporate takeover'), I'm afraid I profoundly distrust it, particularly after personal experience seeing it in action in Africa over many years, and then in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005 (about which I wrote in some detail at the time). I've long since made a few decisions about that organization:
- I will not contribute to its campaigns. Instead, I'll support other organizations where I can be sure my donation will be used for its intended purpose. (Inside the USA, the Salvation Army is my #1 choice.)
- I will not rely on the Red Cross for support in the event of a disaster, and will do all in my power to avoid using its services. I simply don't trust the organization.
Your mileage may vary, of course.