Nearly a month after a tsunami struck several nations in South Asia, the United Nations expressed concern that the donor community has forgotten other crises because of the Dec. 24 catastrophe. Now, some non-governmental organizations fear that the Feb. 12 disaster has done the same, and the focus is on one particular donor: the United States.
A fact sheet on Haiti relief spending released Feb. 12 by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance shows that the U.S. has already provided $564 million, including $241.5 million from the Defense Department. This year’s OFDA budget is pegged at $845 million.
Samuel A. Worthington, president of NGO coalition InterAction, wrote Feb. 11 a letter to officials of the U.S. State Department and USAID, saying he was “deeply concerned about the impact” of funding cutbacks for other emergencies.
The letter, obtained by the Washington Post, estimates the cut at 40 percent. Worthington was echoing a figure reported by Josh Rogin of The Cable Feb. 3.
“As you are probably well aware, OFDA is engaged in a multi-million dollar response in Haiti. As a result, we have had to make all available resources available for Haiti. What this means is that all regions within OFDA are being reduced by 40% resulting in subsequent reductions in planned programming at the country level,” Rogin quoted an e-mail sent to Somali groups working with OFDA funding.
“They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul and you’re seeing that with OFDA programs … we’ve heard that from several of our members in places like South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia,” Worthington’s colleague at InterAction, Todd Shelton, told The Cable.
A statement by a Catholic Relief Services representative seems to confirm InterAction’s fear. The group is not having luck getting U.S. support for some of its non-Haiti programs, such as those to help displaced population in war-torn eastern Congo and hurricane-battered people in Nicaragua.
“We got a note from OFDA saying their current global priority is Haiti,” CRS spokeswoman Lisa Kuennen-Asfaw said as quoted by Washington Post. “That has impacted their budget overall.”
The Cable got wind of the same note – an e-mail. A warning to proponents for projects in Latin America and the Caribbean: The e-mail said “there have been modifications in overall planned programming and budgets” in the region.
A top USAID official affirmed there are no instructions yet for aid groups to scale back their operations at the alleged rate. But she hinted that the agency is going through a funding dilemma.
“You have to make some hard choices about whether you are going to support the Haiti earthquake victims or are you going to reserve those funds and hold them to expand programs for other victims in, say, Somalia,” USAID’s Susan Reichle told The Cable.
Ending that dilemma requires the disaster budget to be replenished, which entails congressional action. This, however, may take a while, according to a Senate staff member.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of doubt they plan to replenish those [disaster] funds,” a Senate aide said to Washington Post. “If the past is any indication, the Congress supports doing so. But it can take some time.”
The Cable also reported plans for a Congress-USAID meeting to discuss the impact of Haiti relief on programs in other countries.