Foreign Assistance: Implementing Disaster Recovery Assistance in Latin America

GAO-01-541T Published: Mar 21, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2001.
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This testimony discusses the U.S. government's disaster recovery and reconstruction program for countries that have been devastated by hurricanes. GAO found that the Agency for International Development (AID) and other U.S. agencies are using the disaster recovery assistance to bring about economic recovery, improve public health and access to education, provide permanent housing for displaced families, and improve disaster mitigation and preparedness. To achieve these broad objectives, AID is funding infrastructure construction and repair, technical assistance and training, loans for farmers and small businesses, and some commodities. After initial start-up problems, the U.S. disaster recovery and reconstruction program is proceeding, and most activities are scheduled for completion on or before December 31, 2001, as AID and congressional staff had informally agreed. To help ensure that funds are spent as intended, AID has channeled much of the disaster recovery assistance funding through cooperating partners with proven track records, contracted with management and financial services firms to handle disbursement to vulnerable partners, and hired contractors to monitor project quality. Although some activities have not gone as smoothly as planned, the missions have responded to concerns as they arose. The bottom line is that AID lacked the mechanisms to quickly design and implement a large-scale infrastructure program with relatively short-range deadlines. The disaster recovery and reconstruction projects GAO examined are neither short-term emergency relief nor long-term development assistance--more typical AID programs. As a result, AID staff faced many challenges to get the program off the ground. AID has begun an agency-wide review of its disaster recovery efforts with emphasis on improving its planning for and delivery of disaster recovery assistance.

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