The GiveWell Blog

How much money has been given and spent for Haiti earthquake relief? Putting the numbers in perspective

We’ll soon be releasing an assessment of disaster relief organizations. Though we haven’t found it practical (yet) to evaluate the effectiveness of their work, we’d like to take a broad look at what the relief effort as a whole has and hasn’t accomplished, and for how much money.

This post focuses on the latter: how much funding has come in for disaster relief? Enough to compensate for all the damage that was caused? Enough to make a major dent in people’s suffering? Or not enough to do much of anything?

In brief, it looks to us as though

  • About $5.2 billion has been raised or pledged; about $1.6 billion has been spent.
  • Big-name charities set multi-year fundraising targets in February and had come close to them by July.
  • The amount raised/pledged is equal to about 80% of Haiti’s GDP, and could theoretically provide each person affected by the earthquake with 2.6 years’ worth of a Haiti-average income, or could provide each person left homeless with 5-8 years’ worth of a Haiti-average income.
  • The amount spent is equal to about 25% of Haiti’s GDP, and could theoretically provide each person affected by the earthquake with about 9 months’ worth of a Haiti-average income, or could provide each person left homeless with 1.6-2.4 years’ worth of a Haiti-average income.
  • The total value of the damage could easily be greater than the total amount raised/pledged.

Considering the extent of the damage and logistical challenges, we wouldn’t necessarily expect all of the damage to be repaired, even 5 years from now. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to see continued suffering and challenges in Haiti, and we also shouldn’t be surprised or upset that organizations are holding much of the money they’ve raised, for later rebuilding efforts. However, given the large amount available (and the large amount spent) in the context of Haiti’s economy, we should expect to see major and tangible benefits coming from the relief effort.

Details of the numbers above follow.

How much has been given?

The most comprehensive-seeming source we’ve found for disaster relief funding is the OCHA list of all humanitarian pledges, commitments & contributions in 2010 (XLS) found in the collection of 2010 Haiti-related documents on Reliefweb (“OCHA” for the remainder of this post). OCHA gives a total of about $3.5 billion committed plus another $1 billion in uncommitted pledges.

However, this isn’t the whole story – it seems to us that the OCHA data is missing a substantial amount. We compared the OCHA numbers to Chronicle of Philanthropy figures from a July 2010 survey. When there was a charity that we were confident we could identify in both tallies, we put the Chronicle figure for that charity side-by-side with the OCHA figure (see the “OCHA vs Chronicle – diffs” sheet in our analysis (XLS)). Even though the OCHA figures are as of January 2011 while the Chronicle figures are as of July 2010, the Chronicle figure exceeds the OCHA figure for the vast majority of matched charities, sometimes by a very large amount. Just looking at the charities that we can confidently match up between the two implies over $700 million in uncounted funding in the OCHA tally.

These matched charities tend to be the big ones, and collectively account for ~$1.37 billion out of the ~$1.65 billion total for all the figures in the Chronicle tally. (Note that we are using “worldwide funds raised” figures when available; using only U.S. figures would generate a total of $1.3 billion, consistent with the Chronicle’s own figure for the total). Furthermore, the funding that’s come in between July and now doesn’t seem significant – the latest Chronicle total for U.S. giving is $1.4 billion, compared to $1.3 billion in the July report.

So we’d say that the total amount of money given or pledged appears to be at least $5.2 billion (~$3.5 billion given according to the OCHA report; ~$1 billion pledged from OCHA report; ~$700 million in uncounted funding that we identified in the Chronicle tally). More thoroughly counting all the “missed funding” for particular nonprofits could raise this total, though probably not by very much.

The recent Chronicle update also states that about 38% of the funds raised have been spent. This applies to the charities in the Chronicle tally, not to all the agents included in the OCHA tally, but we can estimate the amount spent by multiplying our estimate of the total amount committed (not pledged) by 38%, to get $1.6 billion spent.

Have charities raised as much as they expected/hoped to?

Here’s a comparison of how much a few large charities said they needed in February 2010 (from a Chronicle survey) vs. how much they had raised as of July 2010 (from another Chronicle survey).

Charity Requested as of 2/21/10 Received as of 7/9/10
Partners in Health At least $100 million $85 million
Oxfam At least $100 million $90 million
Save the Children $85 million to $115 million $71.4 million
UNICEF $128 million $73.1 million (US only)
World Vision At least $100 million $192 million

Note that the “Requested” figures above are multi-year appeals.

We don’t want to read too much into this data. The announced “funding needs” may have been formulated more based on what was achievable (i.e., trying to set a “stretch target”) than on what expenses were expected – we don’t know. But the basic picture seems to be that major charities raised close to what they were seeking in the few months after the disaster.

How much has been spent/raised in the context of Haiti’s economy and the damage it suffered?

According to the CIA World Factbook, Haiti had an estimated 2009 GDP of $6.56 billion and a population of about 9.6 million, which implies an average annual income (in U.S. dollars, not adjusted for purchasing power parity) of $680.

$5.2 billion (the amount raised/pledged) is equal to about 80% of Haiti’s total yearly economic output; $1.6 billion (the amount spent) is equal to about 25%.

Using an estimate that 30% of the population was affected by the earthquake (see below), $5.2 billion (the amount raised/pledged) would theoretically be enough to give each affected person about $1700, or 2.7 years’ worth of Haiti-average income (though people affected by the earthquake were largely in urban areas and thus probably had above-average incomes for Haiti). $1.6 billion (the amount spent) would be enough for $533, or about 9 months’ worth of Haiti-average income.

Using an estimate that 1-1.5 million people were left homeless by the earthquake (see below), $5.2 billion would theoretically be enough to give each person left homeless about $3500-$5200, or about 5.1-7.7 years’ worth of Haiti-average income. $1.6 billion (the amount spent) would theoretically be enough to give each person left homeless $1067-$1600, or 1.6-2.4 years’ worth of Haiti-average income.

That wouldn’t necessarily be enough to compensate for all the damage, especially in a logistically challenging situation. One study (PDF) estimated that the earthquake caused $7.2 billion-$13.9 billion worth of damages, which is 1.5-3x the amount of aid given and 1.1-2x the value of Haiti’s annual GDP. We find this study highly unreliable (it is attempting to predict the value of the damage based on a linear regression using a very small number of predictive variables such as the number of people killed, land area, population, GDP and disaster type – see page 6), but we do find it plausible that the total losses for a person left homeless could exceed 8 years’ worth of their income, and thus we find it plausible that the amount of aid raised/pledged is not equal to the value of the damage caused.

A note on figures for “people affected” and “people left homeless”

Unfortunately we haven’t yet been able to find official government or U.N. estimates for these figures, accompanied by details of the estimation procedure; the best we’ve found is various news stories citing the government or nonprofit agencies. The number we’ve seen for “total people affected” is 3 million (citing the International Federation of the Red Cross) and the numbers we’ve seen for “people left homeless” are 1 million (citing the government) to 1.5 million (we’ve seen this number in several places including the Chronicle of Philanthropy but haven’t seen a source for it). This would imply that the earthquake affected about 30% of Haiti’s total population and left 10-15% of the total population homeless (using the CIA World Factbook population estimate of 9.6 million).


  • Andrew S. on January 11, 2011 at 1:13 am said:

    Economist Bryan Caplan (whom I seem to be referencing a lot lately) has recently argued for far more permissive immigration rules in the U.S. on both moral and economic grounds. ( What about throwing open our borders to any able-bodied Haitian who wants to work and doesn’t appear to be a security risk?

    Their population is quite small relative to that of the U.S.: an influx of, say, one million Haitians over a couple of years would not deluge our economy or society. Furthermore, the long-term environmental degradation of Haiti is so severe that reducing its population (at least for a while) would probably be helpful to everyone who remained. Plus, to the extent that Haiti suffers from a lack of functional institutions, decent infrastructure, and basic human capital, there’s little reason to think that temporary relief aid will get them “back on their feet” within a few years.

    As for the risk of setting a dangerous precedent (for consistency, will we need to throw open our borders to every Pakistani if there’s another terrible quake there?), there’s a good argument that this disaster was such a whole-scale national catastrophe that it’s qualitatively different from challenges (even severe disasters) that most other developing countries face.

    Needless to say, I support short-term disaster relief. But, insofar as aid organizations’ track records of building societies and economies from scratch is dismal, it seems as if a more radical medium-term approach might be in order.

  • Holden on January 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm said:

    Andrew, it’s an interesting idea, but one we feel is outside the scope of what GiveWell staff should be discussing here. Others are welcome to discuss.

  • where did that money go

  • all of the corrupt leaders get the money the people get nothing that place is the shithole of the world

  • Hassan on August 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm said:

    This is a very interesting article that is well written and raises good questions about how charities spend contributions. I found it strange that charities are not very transparent and also appear not to be using contributions received effectively. I note however, the article is looking at all charities as one collective population. I should point out that not all charity organization are created equal and should be analyzed individually. Still it’s great to ask these questions.

  • Hassan on August 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm said:

    Next is to focus on how effective will charities use all contributions raised for relief efforts to stem starvation and famine in East Africa. Exorbitant amount have been requested. I just hope that all contributions reach the people and not used for some feasibility study or to fund other expenses not related to the cause.

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