EU auditors: Haiti earthquake support falls short

Earthquake damage. Haiti, February 2010. [Enoch Choi/Flickr]

Well-intentioned, but insufficient. In a report published Tuesday (23 September), the European Court of Auditors was highly critical of the European Commission’s €1.23 billion contribution to relief efforts, following the March 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which left 230,000 dead, 300,00 injured, and 1.3 million homeless in Port-au-Prince alone.

The EU is the world’s biggest aid donor, providing over 50% of the world’s humanitarian aid through international groups such as the Red Cross/Crescent, UN agencies, and NGOs. Its earthquake relief program in Haiti counted amongst the largest.

Nevertheless, though it had done an exemplary job in addressing rehabilitation requirements, cooperating with other major donors, and continuing its support for long-term relief efforts in the impoverished Caribbean country, according to auditors, the Commission nonetheless failed to implement its relief efforts effectively.

Out of 13 programmes examined by the ECA, only ten had reached their goals, while three failed to make significant progress, including the 10th European Development Fund general budget support programme. Nearly all experienced delays. Though the Commission was aware of these problems, it failed to adequately address challenges it was facing effectively.

In conjunction with the European External Action Service, the ECA similarly charged the Commission with failing to strengthen the EU delegation in Haiti, which found itself ill-equipped and unable to manage projects in the field. Considering the fluid nature of the crisis situation following the quake, this was an especially problematic limitation, the report’s authors infer.

The proof of these failings lay in their most tangible results: By the end of 2013, over 210,000 left homeless by the earthquake were still living in tent camps. Though the entire international relief effort shoulders responsibility for this situation, the European Commission’s role, the report makes clear, could have been a lot smaller.

Today’s report follows the July 2014 report by the ECA, concluding that under Catherine Ashton’s leadership, the European External Action Service has been “inadequately prepared”, lacks resources and its tasks are “vaguely defined”. The auditors criticised it for having started working with “little preparatory work” and without clearly stated objectives.

>> Read: EU auditors slam Ashton’s office for lack of efficiency

“The EU special representatives are only integrated into the EEAS structure when double-hatted as heads of delegation (4 out of the 11, all located outside the EU). In the absence of clear procedures, it is left to the discretion of the individual special representatives to decide how to manage coordination with the relevant EEAS departments, thus increasing the risk that their actions are inconsistent with other EU actions. Only half of the surveyed heads of delegation considered that they were adequately informed about the activities of special representatives,” the report notes.

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