WASHINGTON - The Red Cross has defended its work in Haiti following a devastating earthquake five years ago after a media investigation found it had only built six houses despite raising nearly half a billion dollars in donations.
ProPublica, an investigative journalism website, and US radio network NPR confronted the American Red Cross this week with a report about the relief agency's use of donations to help the 1.5 million people displaced by January 2010 earthquake.
The report accused the Red Cross of wasting money through various failures and mismanagement, leaving families homeless and unable to survive, while relying too heavily on foreign workers who could not speak French or Creole.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation also learned the Red Cross spent at least 17 percent of funds on expenses in Haiti, despite the US group and international federation stating 91 cents on each dollar goes to humanitarian programs and services.
The American Red Cross dismissed the report as lacking in "balance, context and accuracy", saying its work in Haiti had made a difference in the lives of millions of Haitians.
"Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff - 90 percent of whom are Haitians - continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people," the non-government organization said in a statement on its website.
"While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago."
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, killed more than 220,000 people and was a wake-up call to the government and international aid agencies about the dire need to protect Haitians from disasters and build resilience among communities.
The Red Cross said donations had helped build eight hospitals and clinics, stem a cholera outbreak, provide clean water and sanitation, repair roads and schools, and move more than 100,000 people out of make-shift tents into housing.
But the investigation's discovery that only six permanent houses had been built in Haiti hit headlines and sparked outrage on social media about the lack of transparency and effectiveness of aid funds.