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Estimated Costs for the Haiti Earthquake Appear Incomplete March 24, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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USAID recently released its newest fact sheet on the US government’s estimated cost for the Haiti earthquake relief effort.  According to the fact sheet, as of March 17, 2010 total US disaster assistance to Haiti has totaled just over $779 million.  This total includes U.S. civilian and military efforts, provided through the International Affairs and Defense budgets, and carried out by numerous implementing actors including federal departments, contractors, and non-governmental organizations.

Two elements are especially striking about the USAID fact sheet.  First, it overstates USAID’s contribution to the effort.  USAID attributes $285 million in aid to DOD.  Yet, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), Secretary Gates has authorized $326 million for Haiti just from the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) account – a discrepancy of $41 million.  Using DSCA’s figure increases DOD’s proportion of the total contribution from 37% to 40%.

Even this figure likely understates DOD’s contribution.  USAID’s contribution is comprehensive – its spending totals include profit margins and overhead costs for the contractors on which USAID depended totally for implementation.  DOD’s contribution, however, is limited to the OHDACA account.

OHDACA provides the U.S. military the funds needed to purchase and transport humanitarian cargo for international or non-governmental organizations, in addition other missions.  DOD has not itemized costs beyond this account, but it has provided a comprehensive list of its commitment – including four ships (USS Carl Vinson, USS Higgins, USS Bataan, and USNS Comfort), round-the-clock cargo sorties, and thousands of troops.  These are not traditional OHDACA costs, and they likely would exceed the $326 million listed so far.

Also noteworthy is an implication of this spending: accounts of this type typically receive small annual appropriations increased, as events require, by emergency supplementals.  On the DOD side, OHDACA is historically funded in the $50-60 million range. International Affairs (Function 150) appropriations are even sparser, with only a few accounts containing “contingency” funds not earmarked for specific countries or projects.

The gears, consequently, are already turning for an FY10 supplemental.  The State Department’s Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance is currently in the process of drafting a second emergency supplemental appropriations request needed to replenish these accounts and provide longer term assistance to rebuilding.  In addition to OHDACA, that money will be distributed among the USAID accounts involved in this effort.

A significant portion of the $494 million provided by USAID has been funded through USAID’s International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account.  IDA typically receives an annual appropriation around $200-250 million and provides funding for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).  The annual appropriation isn’t enough to cover the entire USAID/OFDA response funding and, for the moment, it is not clear which programs have been put on hold in order to cover the Haiti response.

Funds from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and the Office of Food for Peace (FFP) can also be used during a crisis.  It is unclear how much of these funds have been supplemented by transfers from other accounts.  For instance, the local USAID Missions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic have also been allowed, with the President’s authority, to spend funds on emergency response programs.

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