Hurricane Matthew: Disaster Response in Haiti 2016

 On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit the south-western peninsula of Haiti. The greatest damage is in Haiti’s regions of Grande’ Anse, Nippes and Sud affecting 1.6 million Haitians. Officially, Hurricane Matthew killed 372 people with unconfirmed local reports claiming maybe 900 have died. Government and UN estimate that due to Hurricane Matthew, 350,000 people need help[1]. This is a much smaller scale disaster response than the 2010 Haitian earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people. Haiti is already a “weak” state with little infrastructure and high poverty levels. International aid will be essential in helping Haiti’s recovery.

The low death toll may be due to disaster preparedness with the Haitian government able to relocate 18,000 to 672 shelters – mostly schools and government buildings[2]. The largest evacuation of 2,758 was in the town of Jeremie on the southern tip of Haiti.


Charity Intelligence is recommending Canadian donors give to:

Doctors Without Borders. The biggest immediate need is preventing a cholera epidemic. Doctors Without Borders is the pre-eminent disaster response charity in disease prevention. Since 2010 when aid workers brought cholera to Haiti in the response to the earthquake, cholera has killed over 9,000 Haitians. Doctors without Borders is the lead agency treating cholera in Haiti, treating over 91,000 cholera cases, and has effectively kept the fatality rate below 2%.

Doctors Without Borders 2 month donor report December 2016

World Vision Canada has an excellent track record in disaster response as well. World Vision is a lead coordinating charity for the Nippes province in the southern peninsula disaster zone.

Mennonite Central Committee is a much smaller charity known for its partnerships with local Haitian organizations.  


Disaster Response: Give Wisely. It Really Matters Which Charities You Donate To.  

In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, serious questions have been asked about how disaster response donations helped. The Gates Foundation’s evaluation found that:

”humanitarian assistance provided by the national and international community did not make a detectable contribution … and in some instances, may have been associated with undesirable outcomes" [3].

Please read this again: more than $3.6 billion spent in humanitarian aid and no detectable contribution found by the Gates Foundation’s independent and objective evaluation. Some charities’ work was highly effective. Yet, if the balance of humanitarian aid was neutral or negative, some charities performed poorly. This independent evaluation emphasises how important it is for donors to give wisely.

Haiti’s critical needs appear to be shelter, water and medical. Donors wanting maximum impact need to give to charities focusing on these three key needs. In addition, rain and high winds caused significant damage to crops and livestock. Immediate food shortages will likely be best addressed by the US military on the ground, the Canadian DART team, and other governments rather than donors.


Top Charity Recommendations for Hurricane Matthew Disaster Response:

Charity Intelligence is particularly concerned about a cholera outbreak. In disaster response, the first task is to stop further loss of life. Cholera has the potential to raise the death toll far above the 900 that were killed directly by Hurricane Matthew. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, flooding contaminated water supplies and tripled cholera deaths. Cholera deaths far exceeded the loss of life due to the hurricane. Flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew jeopardises the water safety of 1.6 million Haitians living in the southern peninsula.

Charity Intelligence Recommended Charities

Doctors Without Borders is already accessing the southern peninsula by helicopters and treating people with cholera. MSF is supporting cholera treatment centres in Artibonite and Nord-Ouest departments[4].

World Vision, operating in Haiti since 1978, has been given the lead co-ordinationrole for the southern department of Nippes in the disaster zone. World Vision Canada has an excellent track record in disaster response. It also has good cost-efficiency with outputs meaning it gets more done with donor dollars than most disaster response charities. World Vision has 4 community development projects in Nord and Nord-Est regions. Please note, these regions are less affected by Hurricane Matthew.  

Mennonite Central Committee: “Working in Haiti since 1958 with trusted Haitian partner organizations”. In response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Mennonite Central Committee has built 100 solid homes, community health clinics, and water systems that support 12,000 people[5]. MCC is a smaller disaster response charity receiving $16 million for the 2010 earthquake disaster compared with $222 million for Canadian Red Cross. MCC’s disaster response and relief approach relies heavily on local partnerships and local expertise that have the highest evidence-based impact. The Gates Foundation is a leader in funding effective charities and donates to Mennonite Central Committee’s agricultural projects. In recommending Mennonite Central Committee, Charity Intelligence is following the “smart money”.


Other Haiti Disaster Response Charities:

There are currently over 24 Canadian charities actively fundraising for Haitian relief following Hurricane Matthew. More will surely follow.

Compassion Canada reports that 70 Compassion-assisted children’s homes were damaged or destroyed and 35 Compassion child development centres were reported as damaged or destroyed. Compassion Canada has inadequate results reporting that lacks specifics with outputs and outcomes leaving us with little information to assess effectiveness.

Plan Canada – Plan International is not recommended by Charity Intelligence for this disaster response. Plan’s humanitarian work focuses on children and education. In 2012 Plan International had spent US$26.4 million of the US$43.5 million received following the earthquake. Plan International said:

housing appears to be a long-term issue for the Haitian people and while Plan Haiti is committed to improving living conditions, we work primarily in education, health and child protection” [6].

This disclosure is highly commendable and helps donors clearly see an area of strategic focus and expertise – and how this charity’s focus matches with the current disaster needs.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Charity Intelligence assesses that the greatest needs are shelter, medical and water infrastructure. To be the most effective, donations need to go to charities that have expertise in these areas.

Canadian Red Cross. In disaster response, speed matters. Yes, there is an absolute need for long-term development in Haiti, for community building and future disaster preparedness. These needs must be balanced with quick response to stop this disaster from getting worse. In the 2010 Haitian earthquake response, Canadian Red Cross spent 17% of total funds received in the emergency response phase - $38.4 million of $222.2 million. For Canadian donors who want their donation to get spent quickly, Doctors Without Borders and World Vision have faster spend rates. Charity Intelligence will reassess Canadian Red Cross following up on its donor reports on Hurricane Matthew’s disaster response.


Quick Facts:

  • The cost to build a good solid house in Haiti is typically C$6,000. This is a useful benchmark for donors to assess charity reporting on money spent on “shelter solutions”. 
  • Avoid donating to charities offering tents and tarps. These are ineffective “shelter solutions” especially in hurricane-prone regions.

“No more transitional shelter – tarps and tents - it is a waste of money” DRR expert, Cebu’s Pagligon Task Force


Fact Checking

Canadian Red Cross donations are pooled with other Red Cross agencies. In a CBC Radio The Current interview, Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, Vice President for Canadian Red Cross International Operations, commented that Canadian Red Cross doesn’t share or give Canadian donations to other Red Cross agencies[7]; “money is not collaborated into one fund”. Not so. Canadian Red Cross’s 5-year donor report on the Haiti earthquake states support to Red Cross Red Crescent Movement (RCRM), International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC):

  • $26.6 million in emergency response phase (69% of Canadian Red Cross emergency response program)
  • $25.2 million contributed to IFRC shelter program in the Recovery and Reconstruction Phase
  • $30.0 million “other recovery” including support to Haitian Red Cross

Total Canadian donations to Canadian Red Cross going to IFRC, RCRM, and IFRC programs was $51.8 million – 23% of the entire Haitian response for 2010-2015, not including “other recovery support” to Haitian Red Cross[8].

Pooling funds is normal. Canada is a donor nation. Canadian donations to Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Plan, Canadian Red Cross, World Vision and most other international charities, are all pooled with these charities’ international affiliates to co-ordinate disaster response work.

CBC reported that 2.5% of Canadian donations to Canadian Red Cross contributed to overhead costs[9]. This is false and the fundraising cost number isn’t the right metric to focus on in disaster response. Canadian Red Cross reports spending 2% on fundraising costs for the Haitian disaster relief. Total fundraising costs were $5 million. Fundraising costs do not include management and administrative overhead costs that are included in program costs and are not separately disclosed. This is a lack of financial transparency. The US Senate’s 1-year investigation into the American Red Cross’s Haitian earthquake efforts revealed that the American Red Cross reports fundraising costs of 9% and administrative and management costs brought total “overhead” costs to 25% of total funds raised. Charity Intelligence strongly suspects Canadian Red Cross total overhead costs are significantly above 2.5% but fall well within a reasonable range. These figures are not provided in donor reports or audited financial statements.

Charity Intelligence urges donors to look beyond overhead costs that are in a reasonable range and instead focus on the disaster work completed and the results achieved.



[1] BBC News “Hurricane Matthew: Haiti south 90% destroyed”, October 8, 2016

[2] Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, “Hurricane Matthew Devastates Haiti’s Southern Peninsula”, October 11, 2016 

[3] Ky Luu and Jean Vernet Henry, Tulane University, Haiti Humanitarian Assistance Evaluation

[4]  MSF October 10 update

[5] Mennonite Central Committee International and Canadian updates 

[6] Plan International update

[7] CBC Radio, The Current, Haiti devastation post-Hurricane Matthew pose challenges for aid organizations, October 12, 2016

[8] Canadian Red Cross, Haiti: 5 Years After The Earthquake

[9] Johnathan Rumley, CBC News Haiti Earthquake relief funds well-spent, Canadian Red Cross says: Canadians contributors gave $222M to help Haiti after 2010 disaster June 5, 2015

Additional Sources:

Azam Ahmed, New York Times, “In Haiti, a City’s Race Into the 21st Century Is Ruined by a Hurricane”, October 10, 2016

David Wright, ABC News Haiti Before and After Hurricane Matthew in Satellite Images, October 10, 2016 



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