CIDA’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund: millions raised, nothing spent

“Funds will be disbursed in the near future”

Has anyone seen the new Alice in Wonderland movie? I haven’t, but every month or so I try to get straight answers from the Canadian International Development Agency, so I figure I’ve saved myself 11 bucks.

I called the agency yesterday with questions about the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. You probably remember this. It’s where the Canadian government promises to match funds Canadians donate to Haiti to help with, among other things, “early recovery” and reconstruction. I had heard from a contact who does relief work in Haiti that no one who has applied for money from this fund had heard back from CIDA. Seemed a little strange. It’s been two months since the quake and one month since the donation window closed on February 12. So I called CIDA to find out how much money has been raised, how much has been disbursed, where it’s been disbursed, and, if nothing has been disbursed, as my contact told me, when it will be.

The first thing you need to know about CIDA is no one who answers the media inquiries phone line is capable of answering questions. They can write questions down, though, which is all the job requires. Then someone else gets back to you – not by phone, mind. That would involve social interaction and thinking for one’s self. Dangerous.

Today I got an email response from a second media relations person, which didn’t answer all my questions. I called her up to ask for some clarity. She couldn’t provide it. She didn’t actually write the responses, you see, she just signs her name to the email. She said a third person will call me back. Now we’re up to three people answering one media request – not including however many people actually crafted the muddled response in the first place. (Hey, Stock – if you ever do get around to making some cuts to the public service, I have some suggestions.)

Anyway, here’s what I know so far.

As of the cutoff date, the 14 Canadian charities reporting donations to CIDA raised $154.4 million, of which $128.8 million is “potentially eligible” for the government’s fund matching mechanism. This is on CIDA’s website. What accounts for the $26 million difference is not. I asked the CIDA person I actually spoke to what “potentially eligible” means. She didn’t know.

UPDATE: CIDA says they are reviewing donated funds for eligibility based on these criteria.

I asked how much of the money raised through the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund has been spent. CIDA’s response included a paragraph about where Canada has spent money that doesn’t come from the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, before adding the line: “Funds from the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund will be disbursed in the near future.”

In other words, they haven’t spent a penny.

This rendered my question about who’s getting the money meaningless, but I still wanted to know when the money that Canadians donated in response to “urgent” appeals will actually be put to use. Here’s the response.

“CIDA officials are in close contact with the Government of Haiti and our humanitarian and development partners to determine the optimal use of these resources as relief, recovery and reconstruction needs are further identified. In keeping with its mandate to manage Canadian aid effectively, CIDA will disburse funds from the HERF as this process takes place.”

When I was in Haiti, a 19-year-old American in military fatigues showed up with boxes of latex gloves. His heart was in the right place, but he didn’t really know what he was doing and had a nervous breakdown after picking up an amputated leg when he was asked to clean a hospital’s waste-strewn yard. He went home the next day.

Some of us had a good laugh about the episode. But at least he accomplished something. He gathered dirty bandages and let Haitians know they mattered to him. That’s more than CIDA has so far accomplished with the more than $100 million Canadians have donated to its Earthquake Relief Fund.

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