New Math in Haiti - How One Latrine Could Be Counted Three Times

To understand the baffling reality of how hard it is to "Follow the Money" when it comes to aid to Haiti, it helps to look at -- of all things-- latrines.

In Haiti, latrines are almost as important as food and shelter. Without enough, unsanitary conditions spread diseases like typhoid, malaria, and dysentery. Many of the thousands of relief groups helping in Haiti are contributing to the latrine effort.

Help to Haiti "Not Good Enough"

Yet according to the United Nations, relief groups fell far short of the mid-April goal of building 11-thousand latrines. At last word, they numbered 5,347: barely half.

CBS News counted up the number of latrines that 20 relief groups say they provided or installed in Haiti since the earthquake in January. The total was 10,069.

How can that be, when the UN said only about half that number (5,347) had been built? 

Special Section: Haiti the Road to Recovery

Experts tell us it's because of the way relief is distributed, provided and counted. One group may pay for a latrine, two others install it, and all three count it among the total help they've provided. There's nothing improper about that, but what looks like three latrines - may really be just one.

The same may apply to untold other relief supplies, but there's no simple way to know. Relief experts tell us one agency may purchase a tarp, another transports it, and a third group distributes it. Each group claims credit and, in fact, each group contributed to the effort. But what looks like three tarps - may really be just one.

All this may help explain the appearance gap between all the help that's been provided to Haiti so far, and the hard reality on the ground. Billions of dollars in assistance are pouring in. Thousands of relief groups are contributing resources. Yet untold tens of thousands in Haiti are still living in emergency conditions with basic needs unfulfilled and their lives threatened.

Latrines in Haiti

Mid-April goal*: 11,000

Mid-April claimed**: 10,069+

Mid-April actual*: 5,347

*source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

**total number referenced by 20 relief groups, as compiled by CBS News

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.