Is the US Playing a Numbers Game with Haiti?

So we are not sure quite what to make of this yet: USAID has completed a draft of a report ("yet to be released publicly," but obtained by the Associated Press) that rejiggers the number of dead in post-earthquake Haiti as well as the number of homeless living in camps. The new study estimates that the Haiti death toll topped out at 85,000, not the 200,000 estimated by the Haitian government. And, the new study says that 900,000 were left homeless, not 1.5 million that the government and aid organizations have stated. Furthermore, the study says about 375,000 are still living in squalid tent cities, not 680,000. So, what gives? Time poses the question: "Did Haiti Commit Disaster Inflation?"

A Washington-based consultancy group, LTL Strategies, prepared the study.

While we wait for our phone calls to get returned on this (we can, however, quote our field producer, Jenny Elie, who is "outraged" at the report), we can state what we found, ourselves, on the ground in November 2010 when we arrived in Haiti to track where the money donated to major charities went.

* The number of people in the camps was generally accepted as under-estimated. Official UN figures only tallied those who were in "official" camps. None of the ad-hoc camps crammed into alleys, on tennis courts, street median strips and parks were counted--these usually numbered less than 500 but were everywhere. We are intrigued to know how LTL Strategies conducted their count.

* The number of dead is indeed difficult to estimate, especially as most of the rubble had not yet been cleared, so no one truly had an accurate idea of how many bodies lay beneath the shattered concrete. (For the explanation of this, see the first episode of our Haiti series.)

* It will become trendy now to say that Haitians inflated the disaster in order to have more aid money. However, as we reported in January 2011--a situation that, not incidentally, has not changed--most of the $1.4 billion donated by American citizens to major charities had not yet been spent in Haiti. In the case of the Red Cross, for example, they told us that much of the money remains in their general accounting fund. Additionally, most of the billions pledged by donor nations has yet to arrive.

Is the report then a sign that donor nations and some major NGOs are going to turn off the current drip of aid? Well that is a much more interesting question. And one more reason why we are going back.