US House seeks accounting of aid money

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives asked the Obama administration Tuesday to come up with an accounting of how humanitarian and reconstruction aid is being spent in Haiti, which has been slow to recover from the devastating earthquake of more than a year ago despite an outpouring of U.S. and international assistance.

``The unprecedented relief effort has given way to a sluggish, at best, reconstruction effort,'' said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, sponsor of the legislation requesting that President Barack Obama prepare a report within six months of the bill's enactment on the status of the aid campaign in Haiti, including the fight to combat an outbreak of cholera.

Some of the blame for the slow progress in Haiti has been put on the lack of coordination among foreign and Haitian relief groups, a destroyed infrastructure, absence of a viable Haitian government and corruption. But another factor, Lee said, is ``the lack of urgency on the international community's part.''

She said that, at an international donors' conference in March, 2010, 58 donors pledged $5.5 billion to support Haiti's recovery efforts, but as of March this year only 37 percent of the money had been disbursed. ``This is unacceptable,'' she said.

The Haitian government says 316,000 people were killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake of magnitude 7.0. More than 1 million in a population of fewer than 10 million were displaced from their homes in the hemisphere's poorest nation.

Rep. Maxine Waters, another Democrat, said 680,000 remain in refugee camps. ``We owe it to the Haitian people to find out how much of this money has been delivered to Haiti and where that money went,'' she said. ``We have not always had our act together in Haiti.''

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said much progress has been achieved in the past year, such as increased access to clean water. She said the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission has approved 86 reconstruction projects accounting for about one-third of the total pledges made by international donors last year.

But she also stressed the need to determine that the aid effort ``is not being derailed by waste, duplication or corruption.''

The bill, passed by voice, now goes to the Senate.