Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?
Did you give money to Haiti after the earthquake? Well, it doesn’t matter if you did. When broadcast journalist Michele Mitchell screened her new documentary ‘Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?’ at Capitol Hill, she was met with yelling and seething members of the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), American Red Cross (ARC), who tried to hand out documents citing inaccuracies that were quickly dismissed.
The film has caused quite the furor in the US with James Wolcott , Vanity Fair media columnist, who commented, “Without injecting itself with rhetorical grandstanding, cutesy graphics, and staged confrontations, [the film] punches way above its weight, as the best independent documentaries do, training its camera eye on institutional power and calling it into account”.
Mitchell and her media company, Film at 11, travelled to Haiti 20 months after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that left 316,000 people dead and over a million homeless.
Essentially what the film shows us is the truth that all the NGOs would rather we didn’t know. One out of two American households donated money to the relief effort, raising almost £1billion in the US alone. Over two years since the disaster, it appears very little has changed for those on the ground. Mitchell’s film investigates where donors’ money went and why conditions for Haitians are still so dire.
The film comprises two trips Mitchell made to Haiti, one 10 months after the quake and the second after 20 months. In both instances, it seems the capital Port-au-Prince is in some way on the road to recovery, but it is what is outside the city that is the most shocking.
What you probably don’t know is that at least 600,000 Haitians are in fact living in campsites, where their “houses” are simply tents known as “tarps”, fashioned from oil-based plastic. This number isn’t even accurate, as the UN doesn’t count people in “unofficial” camps, or those of fewer than 500. In perhaps the most alarming instance, Camp Canaan II is home to over 5,000 people who share six toilets. At another site, over 9,000 people share ten latrines. These “facilities” are now disgustingly full, and there is no one to clean them. The camp residents would do it themselves, but they possess neither money nor equipment to do this.
The ARC has modeled itself as one of the biggest presences in the relief effort, and it claims to have been distributing things such as utensils to Haitians, but most who received them have now had to sell them for food. Drinking water is scarce and contaminated, and the dark threat of cholera is now rearing its ugly head. This isn’t the first time the ARC have had to defend themselves. Failures by them on their home turf after Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 are but two examples. On top of this is the lack of accountability; accurate information and data on where money has been spent is rarely available to donors. “I like happy endings,” said Mitchell of the documentary, “but sadly this is just not a happily ending story. I shot what I saw and it was like Dante’s Inferno. I was thinking “what level of horror am I in?””
The film will be screened at ULU on Monday 19th March at 7:30pm in Room 3D. You can find the Facebook event here.