Where Has All the Money Gone in Haiti? Ask A New Group of Investigative Reporters

Mar 122012

When I first started training Haitian journalists in investigative reporting skills in the summer of 2010, I wasn’t sure I could overcome the mountain of obstacles: a culture that didn’t include investigations; newsrooms that were so focused on daily events that verification was as rare as research; widespread lack of information, data and sources or worse, sources who divulged no information or data; and journalists themselves who weren’t even sure what I meant by investigations.

A Haitian woman and one of her six children stand in front of a shack where they live. Nearby, shelters meant for homeless families stand empty. (Photo by Fritznelson Fortuné/Haiti Grassroots Watch)

But now - 20 months later - Haiti’s Fund for Investigative Journalism is up and running. Seven investigations fielded by a group of 13 journalists are making waves, and headlines.

The print, radio and multimedia reports concentrate on tracking aid earmarked for reconstruction following the January 2010 earthquake. The fund, financed by an independent donor and International Media Support, chose stories that explore waste of resources, lack of coordination among aid organizations, the state and the recipients of the aid, and an even more egregious problem, exclusion of those for whom the aid is earmarked from the conversation.

One story notes that over 500 recipients of homes complete with environmentally friendly toilets replaced the commodes by digging pits and installing traditional flush toilets, thereby defeating the protective measures for the capital’s water supply. Why? Because the new home owners, who hadn’t been consulted, found the new toilets required too much ‘maintenance.’

Another story exposes the truth in the seaside town of Leogane, where some shelter recipients have already received temporary housing from other aid organizations and are turning a profit by renting them out, while other victims are still living in tents.

A team of print journalists from the country’s only daily newspaper examined the millions of dollars spent on 11,000 temporary toilets set up in camps for the earthquake victims, which have now been abandoned, leaving nearly a half million camp residents with ‘nowhere to go.’

A fourth report focuses on a U.S.-based church group that advertised construction of homes for earthquake victims. But a survey of the church’s site reveals no such structures or supporting projects, such as bio-fuel stoves and a chicken hatchery.

More reports are about to be released – including one that examines how a protected area has been developed with more than 2,000 new shelters on the same precarious hillside and unstable soil where the original homes fell during the quake.

A second round of investigations is slated for this spring. We hope the stories set a new bar, becoming the norm in reporting as opposed to the exception. And we hope that the Fund will inspire a new standard of journalism that holds people, government agencies and the international community more accountable for their actions, and how they spend their dollars.