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Humanitarian Groups Express Concern That Haiti Funding Might Affect Efforts In Other Crisis Countries

A coalition of more than 150 humanitarian groups expressed “concern” in a letter Thursday that more than half of the U.S. government’s disaster-assistance program budget has been pledged to help Haiti, which they say could mean cuts for aid to countries such as Sudan or Somalia, the Washington Post reports.

“The 2010 budget for the disaster program – known as the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, or OFDA – is about $845 million. It normally provides for not just unexpected calamities, such as the Haiti earthquake, but also for programs dealing with ongoing emergencies such as the fighting in Congo and the refugee crisis in Sudan,” according to the newspaper. The letter – from InterAction President Samuel Worthington, on behalf of the organizations – was sent to “top officials” at USAID and the State Department, the newspaper writes.

The Washington Post continues, “USAID officials denied Thursday that they have ordered any cutbacks, adding that they hope they will not have to do so. But that will depend, they said, on whether their disaster fund is replenished by a supplemental spending bill that Congress is expected to take up in the next few weeks” (Sheridan, 2/12).

In related news, the Associated Press/New York Times reports on the remaining challenges facing Haiti, one month after the earthquake. “Food has yet to reach all of the 3 million people who need it. Infrastructure problems and supply backlogs continue to hamper an international aid effort that has drawn $537 million from the United States alone. Schools remain closed. And on Thursday morning, in a taste of the new horrors the impending rainy season promises to bring, an early morning downpour muddied the dirt in which 1.2 million people have pitched makeshift camp,” the news service writes.

Yet, “[a]mid the chaos and unmet needs, there are obvious signs of progress: The United Nations, itself devastated by the quake, has established a tent-and-trailer city on the airport grounds to coordinate the efforts of 900 aid agencies who finally appear to be overcoming huge problems with communications, transportation and infrastructure. Cell phone coverage has vastly improved. Gas stations have reopened … Massive amounts of rubble are still everywhere – loaded into dump trucks, the convoy would stretch from Port-au-Prince to Moscow, officials said – but at least it has been pushed to the side of the road. … The once ubiquitous dead, and their overpowering smell, have largely been carried away,” according to the AP (2/11).

Meanwhile, IRIN reports on the need for tarps rather than tents in Haiti, which would provide waterproof shelter as the rainy season approaches. According to IRIN, USAID’s “Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance estimates that between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people in Haiti need help with shelter in the wake of January’s earthquake. The USAID/OFDA strategy is also [to add] ‘plastic sheeting over tents, to permit flexible application of materials, enhanced protection from inclement weather, and adherence to minimally adequate humanitarian community guidelines.'”

“‘Plastic sheeting is preferred over tents and pre-fabricated structures because of its flexibility, relatively low cost, familiarity among the affected population, and potential to create minimally adequate covered living space,’ according to the strategy for addressing shelter needs in Haiti,” IRIN writes (2/11). 

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