NBC News 8/25/2012: Updated at 7:40 a.m. ET:
“Tropical Storm Isaac dumped heavy rains on Haiti on Saturday, threatening floods and mudslides in a country where hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless more than two years after a devastating earthquake.
Lashing rains and high winds were reported along parts of Haiti’s southern coast and in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, where more than 350,000 survivors of the 2010 earthquake are still living in fragile tent and tarpaulin camps.”
So what the heck happened in Haiti? Where did all that money go?
According to The Journal of Investigative Journalism recently reported, “One out of every two American households gave with $1.5 to 3 billion being donated to about 23 major charities. The international community came together pledging an unprecedented $5 billion – the largest pot of post-disaster reconstruction money ever.”
Yet, across the street from a squalid camp where three latrines service an estimated 7, 000 people, fleets of white SUVs line the streets as aid workers and Haiti’s tiny elites frequent a luxury restaurant with an extensive wine menu, tuna tartar, escargot and New York steak at $34. Reconstruction in Haiti is proceeding at a “snail’s pace,” leaving half a million Haitians still homeless two years after the quake. It urged the Haitian government and donor countries to accelerate the delivery of funds for reconstruction. Unfortunately, the Haitian government and donor countries have failed to come up with a coordinated strategy to rebuild the country and house the more than 500,000 people still living in tents and under tarpaulins without access to running water, a toilet or a doctor.
According to recently published reports by Oxfam, the UN, the US Government Accountability Office and international aid experts interviewed by GlobalPost, billions of dollars of aid were pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction, but promises of funding have not translated into money on the ground. According to the UN report, as of the end of September 2011, donors had disbursed just 43 percent of the total $4.6 billion pledged for reconstruction in 2010 and 2011.
Also, profiteers seem to wander the streets of Haiti. The CNN Freedom Project shined a significant light on the plight of the Restaveks, the estimated 300,000 children working as domestic servants in Haiti. Many of them are Restaveks in forced labor, not kids helping mom or dad.
So … think that this type of profiting is simply only in Haiti? I will give one totally unrelated example: corporations are lining their pockets off the life insurance they take out on employees who die. In late 2011, Lake Worth, Florida woman got a letter, alerting her that Wal-Mart benefited richly from her husband’s death. Like hundreds of thousands of its other employees, Wal-Mart had secretly taken out a life insurance policy on her husband when he worked as a department head in the garden center. Her husband’s death put between $75,000 and $150,000 in its pockets.
Some of the companies who engage in this practice are: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney and Winn-Dixie. They carry policies that amount in the billions. “The Wall Street Journal reported that Bank of America and Wells Fargo both have $17 billion each in these life insurance policies. Chase has $11 billion.”
The Buddhist Precept “Do no harm” crashed through my body as I watched the Haiti report. And like many of us, we may not steal face-to-face, but we do allow the rich to exploit the poor simply via the normal day-in-day-out workings of our banking and economic systems. It’s only when we raise our national conscience to unified level that we can force our ‘elected’ to serve, “We the people….”
But I dare to say that while Tropical Storm Isaac careens across Haiti, few, if any, will give a damn.