USAID Says Its Report on Number of Quake Victims is “Flawed” – More Like Manufactured

Posted on June 5, 2011

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A US government report is usually leaked for one of two reasons;

-The US leaks its own reports to see if the media will float the contents long enough to manipulate public opinion in favor of the report’s conclusions.

-A government employee or contractor, willing to risk job security, will leak a report because its findings are blatant propaganda and, if the report is allowed to become government policy, it will create a damaging “reality.”

In the case of the USAID’s draft report leaked last week, which outrageously low-balled the number of dead and homeless from the Jauary 2010 earthquake, it’s possible both kinds of leaks may have occurred.

In the following article, we see that the USAID has been forced to condemn the report stating that the contractor’s statistical sampling methods were flawed. Yet, it should not be discounted that the USAID gave the contractor the bottom line number of dead and homeless and told the contractor to create the statistics to fit.

Verifying the number of dead and homeless in disaster situations is the method normally used by government agencies to justify budget requests. If USAID purposely low-balled the numbers then its intention is to lower its Haiti assistance budget. In addition, since USAID is the largest funder of NGOs in Haiti, a reduced USAID budget for Haiti assistance means that NGOs will have to tighten their belt or be dropped altogether.

USAID pulled a similar trick a few months after the quake:

In the first few weeks after the earthquake, President Preval made an impassioned plea to the international community for donation of tents to provide shelter for earthquake victims.

About a month later, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) put the word out to the NGO community that Haiti was “eating up” all of its money and that it could not promise that there would be enough funding to cover future worldwide disasters. The NGO community read the tea leaves and realized that if it wanted to continue to feed at the USAID trough and avoid firing staff it would need to tighten its Haiti belt. Immediately after USAID communicated its warning, the NGO community did an about face on tents. Suddenly, tents were too big and too expensive. The new recommendation for “adequate shelter” became the less expensive tarps — one to each homeless family. Of course, as the preliminary “killer” rains have proven, the tarps provide insignificant protection. After watching the following video, filled with cardboard hovels, you have to wonder if USAID issued yet another belt-tightening warning.

From HCV Analysis post, 4/27/10: VIDEO: Haiti Tent City is Mostly Cardboard. Exactly What is USAID’s Definition of Adequate Shelter

US: Flaws in death toll report on Haiti quake

By TRENTON DANIEL, Associated Press – 1 day ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Flaws have been found in a controversial U.S. report estimating the death toll from Haiti’s earthquake last year was far lower than previously thought, a U.S. official said Friday.

It was the strongest statement yet by U.S. government officials since a leaked draft report commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development raised questions over just how many people died and were displaced in the January 2010 quake, an unparalleled natural disaster that unleashed an outpouring of foreign aid.

Mark Feierstein of the U.S. Agency for International Development said the report is problematic because the authors used a statistical sampling that was not representative. The study didn’t include data from heavily damaged areas in Haiti’s countryside or from the number of houses that collapsed and killed people, he said.

“Those are all serious flaws,” Feierstein, USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The report’s lead author, Timothy T. Schwartz, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Based on a statistical sampling from a hard-hit, densely populated section of downtown Port-au-Prince, the study estimates the quake’s death toll was between 46,000 and 85,000, much lower than the figure of 316,000 cited by Haitian authorities.

The report, obtained by AP early in the week, has not been officially released and is under review.

It arose after USAID hired a Washington consulting firm, LTL Strategies, to look at the impact of rubble removal programs so people could move back into their homes. To figure out how many people left their homes, the authors wanted to know how many people died and wouldn’t return.

The report also estimates that up to 895,000 people moved into temporary settlements around the capital after the quake and that no more than 375,000 people are still living in them. The U.N. International Organization for Migration puts those numbers higher: as many as 1.5 million people moved into the camps and 680,000 remain.

Schwartz, an anthropologist long critical of the aid process, posted on his blog Friday that he was eliminated as a candidate for a consulting job for a USAID food program in Haiti.

“The reason has nothing to do with the death count report on which I was lead researcher and that has garnered a lot of media attention,” he wrote. “I’ve been disqualified, it is rumored, because of my critique of food aid.”

The office of outgoing Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who was in office at the time of the quake, stands by its figures. The administration of newly elected President Michel Martelly declined to comment because the report hasn’t been officially released.