Government

North Miami Leaders Launch Accountability Portal for Haiti Relief Efforts

A powerful earthquake struck Haiti on August 14.
A powerful earthquake struck Haiti on August 14. Photo by Richard Pierrin/Getty Images
Mindful of how the international humanitarian effort was fumbled in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, two North Miami councilmembers of Haitian descent — Alix Desulme and Mary Estimé-Irvin — are orchestrating an effort to prevent a repeat by legitimizing the donation process. The goal, they say, is to ensure that much-needed aid reaches people, not pockets.

To make fundraising more transparent and assuage donors' hesitation, the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON), of which Deslume and Estimé-Irvin are members, is creating an online portal that allows users to choose from a group of organizations in Haiti that have been vetted and approved by the Haitian government and NHAEON to give money. The portal — called OpenHaiti.org — should be operational within the next month.

"This time we're saying we want to make sure the work that's supposed to get done gets done," Estimé-Irvin tells New Times. "We want to make sure everyone is held accountable: organizations [in the U.S.], organizations [in Haiti], and the Haitian government."

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the southern coastal town of Les Cayes on August 14 and is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 people. Survivors need housing, medical supplies, and items such as flashlights, batteries, and generators. In the days and weeks that followed the disaster, nonprofits and charities across South Florida and the rest of the Haitian diaspora set up drives to collect money and supplies.

But Desulme says that he had received reports from Haiti that scammers were taking donated goods and supplies and selling them rather than distributing them. Desulme, who is serving as NHAEON's chairman, says he and other members contacted the Haitian government, which assured the group that those incidents of pilfered donations were isolated, perpetrated by people who had not coordinated with the government. But Desulme wanted to see the humanitarian efforts for himself.

On Monday, Desulme, Estimé-Irvin, and five other NHAEON members traveled to Haiti to get a boots-on-the-ground sense of relief efforts. Gazing down from a U.S. military helicopter as it flew over the crumbled streets, Desulme got an aerial view of the destruction.

He says photos don't do justice to the devastation.

"The houses are all down to the ground," he tells New Times. "It's just rubble."

For many in Haiti and across the Haitian diaspora, the recent earthquake conjures painful memories of 2010, when a catastrophic quake struck Port-au-Prince, killing more than 300,000 people and leaving 1.5 million people homeless. The aftermath saw an international effort between government and nongovernment agencies alike to deliver aid  — but it was disorganized. Half a billion dollars from U.S. donors was funneled to the American Red Cross, which promised to build new roads, schools, and homes. But an investigation by NPR and ProPublica revealed that millions were mismanaged and that only six permanent homes — not the 132,000 the charity had claimed — had been built.

To this day, little reconstruction has been done and many people still live in tents without running water in the Haitian capital.

"In 2010, donations were given for a purpose and that purpose was not accomplished," Estimé-Irvin says. "Money was donated and it was held. Now people are hesitant."

To prevent donations from being similarly squandered this time, OpenHaiti.org portal will allow businesses and local organizations that are approved by the Haitian government to enlist with NHAEON upon signing a memorandum pledging to use contributions for their intended purpose. NHAEON itself will not hold any donation money, acting instead as a conduit between donors and recipients.

Estimé-Irvin says Haiti's most pressing need is money to rebuild infrastructure like roads and bridges, and to erect temporary houses for the newly homeless.

Until the portal is operational, those looking to donate can visit the network's website, where users can designate the organization to receive their donation for earthquake relief.
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos