Are Haiti Donations Going To The Right Place?

Americans have given more than $275 million so far to nonprofits providing relief in Haiti, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. But charitable-giving experts say people need to keep an eye on where their money goes.

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According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans have donated more than $275 million to Haiti for earthquake relief.

But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, it's possible that money may not end up where it should.

PAM FESSLER: President Obama visited American Red Cross offices in Washington Monday and noted that the group had already raised an unprecedented $21 million through a highly publicized text messaging campaign. As photographers' cameras clicked nearby, the president said it was a testimony to American generosity.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is - it's also a testimony, though, to the confidence people have in the Red Cross and ability of using that money wisely, so...

FESSLER: And using the money wisely is something donors need to think about, say those who monitor charitable giving. Ken Berger is president and CEO of the online service Charity Navigator, which analyzes and rates nonprofits.

Mr. KEN BERGER (President & CEO, Charity Navigator): You need to use your head as well as your heart. Your heart motivates you, oftentimes to give in these terrible situations like this, but you've got to use your head so that you don't get ripped off.

FESSLER: His advice? Give only to charities with a proven track record and those willing to show you exactly what they're doing with the money.

Mr. BERGER: Go to their Web site. You have a clear picture of how the money's being used. You want open organizations that are responsive to donors, as well as to the people that they serve.

FESSLER: He recommends that donors give to two kinds of groups: those with strong ties to Haiti, that know the country's needs and have Haitians on staff; and those larger nonprofits with the know-how and infrastructure to carry out a major relief effort, organizations such as the American Red Cross.

But even the Red Cross comes with baggage. It was widely criticized for its handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina and its diversion of donations for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to other programs. Spokesman Roger Lowe says those problems are now fixed.

Mr. ROGER LOWE (Spokesman, American Red Cross): When somebody makes a donation to us, the first thing we do is to check the donor's intent. If the donor says that they want this to go to Haiti, that's where it goes. Before any funds are spent, we establish financial controls and an audit trail so that we can track every single dollar as it moves through the system.

FESSLER: He says his bigger concern for donors is charitable scams. He's heard there are people in the streets collecting money they say is for the Red Cross.

Mr. LOWE: I hope they are. We'd be grateful if they are, and God love them if they are, but it's I'm not sure that I personally would hand some money to somebody standing on a street corner, saying they're collecting for the Red Cross.

FESSLER: Most experts recommend only giving to a charity directly or through a known middleman. Nonprofits know that what happens to donors' funds is key to maintaining the public's trust. Sam Worthington is president and CEO of InterAction, a coalition of the biggest humanitarian aid groups now in Haiti. He says every coalition member has to be certified annually to make sure they meet certain standards.

Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (President & CEO, InterAction): It ensures that they have the systems in place to manage resources, the people and the program capacity to engage in a disaster like this one.

FESSLER: And that's important, he says, because these groups will be working in Haiti well after the giving public has stopped paying so much attention.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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Major Aftershock Rocks Earthquake-Stricken Haiti

Haitians follow soldiers with the 82nd Airborne division through a street in Port-au-Prince.

A huge crowd of Haitians follows soldiers with the 82nd Airborne division through a street in Port-au-Prince. Most of them are living in a tent city set up in a soccer field adjoining a U.S. field hospital. John Poole/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption John Poole/NPR

A powerful aftershock struck Haiti early Wednesday, sending frightened survivors from last week's devastating earthquake scrambling out of already damaged structures and into the streets.

The temblor, originally estimated at magnitude 6.1, but later revised to 5.9, occurred just eight days after the massive earthquake that demolished buildings in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing perhaps as many as 200,000 people and throwing the country into chaos.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said Wednesday that it was sending more than 2,000 additional U.S. Marines to the area, adding to the thousands of American troops already on the ground or offshore. Officials said the 2,200-strong 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had been en route from Norfolk, Va., to the Persian Gulf, would be diverted to Haiti.

'All The Walls Started Shaking Here'

The latest aftershock hit just after 6 a.m. about 35 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and 13.7 miles below the surface, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It was not immediately clear whether it caused more damage or injuries.

NPR's Carrie Kahn, reporting from Port-au-Prince, said that in her hotel, "You heard yelling, 'Run, run, go!' I heard debris falling, and everyone was out as quick as they could."

The shaking lasted "probably about 10 seconds," said Jackie Northam, another NPR correspondent staying at the same hotel. "It was a deep, deep rumble under the ground and all the walls started shaking here.

"They've had aftershocks in the past week. Some have been large, some have been small, but this one was very big," Northam said. More than 40 significant aftershocks have followed the Jan. 12 quake.

That magnitude 7 event left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless, according to the European Union Commission.

Haiti can expect even more aftershocks in the days and weeks to come, said Bruce Pressgrave, a geophysicist with the USGS. He says the aftershocks are a sign that the ground underneath the quake zone is adjusting to "the new reality of the rock layers."

Relief Supplies Reaching Remote Areas

Coordinating a massive international relief effort to get food and water to survivors has proved difficult in some areas, with reports of looting and violence in parts of the quake-affected zone.

David Orr, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program, told NPR's Morning Edition that the agency was setting up four fixed distribution points in Port-au-Prince and was beginning to reach devastated areas outside the capital that had been cut off by blocked roads and collapsed infrastructure.

"We are flying, for example, high-energy biscuits into the outlying areas, such as the town of Jacmel, which was badly hit and was unreachable until recently because the road was down due to a mudslide," Orr said.

So far, Orr said, the WFP had served about 133,000 beneficiaries, mostly with high-energy biscuits, as well as rice, legumes, oil and salt. He said the agency hoped to serve 2 million quake survivors but that it could be weeks or perhaps a month before that goal was reached.

Orr acknowledged that the aid distributions to date had not been "textbook."

He noted that "we certainly haven't seen any incidents of panic or anything out of control."

Food Melee In Port-au-Prince

But a different story emerged in some areas of the city Tuesday. On a golf course in Port-au-Prince, NPR correspondents witnessed a scene that bordered on chaos as U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne tried to keep order while food was distributed.

Thousands of Haitians converged on the makeshift aid distribution point. What started out as a fairly orderly operation quickly got out of control as some 25,000 people swarmed the site.

In a bid to restore calm, U.S. Army Capt. John Hartzog ordered his men to take three steps back and sit down. It worked, as many Haitians apparently sensed the gesture was meant to ease the tension.

"I'm thinking about possibly, maybe not tomorrow, but the next day ... having them sit down right off the bat," Hartzog said. "We've tried different things. Sometimes it goes smooth, sometimes it doesn't."

Photo Gallery: Treating The Wounded

Andre Bouchard, the chief security officer for the U.N. operation in Haiti, says some areas of Port-au-Prince have proved difficult to control.

"The thing is that we don't have currently an order to say that we can contain specific areas," Bouchard said. "We have a situation where we can have looting happening roughly anywhere around town."

More than a week after the earthquake, the prospect of finding more survivors has dimmed, though there have been some improbable successes.

In Jacmel, an infant was pulled alive and apparently unhurt from the rubble of a crushed house. "That's a miracle, man. A miracle," said onlooker France Lambert.

Children Turned Away At Orphanages

Many children have been left parentless, and already overcrowded orphanages have been forced to refuse new arrivals.

At one orphanage, babies were sleeping in the back of a dilapidated Isuzu truck, while toddlers were in a tent and the teenagers in the open, NPR's Jason Beaubien reported.

The Port-au-Prince facility housed about 150 children, many of whom were destined for families in the U.S. before the quake. About 10 of them already had passports but were waiting for the last few bureaucratic wrinkles to be ironed out.

The staff is "just hoping to get all of these orphans out of Port-au-Prince," Beaubien said. "They would like to airlift all of them to the United States immediately."

Children who are being turned away at the capital's packed orphanages are "probably getting absorbed with the other people sleeping on the streets," he said. "Those children are incredibly vulnerable — it's very unclear what is going to happen with these children that have lost both parents to the quake."

Fleeing The Quake Zone

As international aid groups try to get relief supplies into devastated areas, many Haitians were boarding buses in the capital's Cite Soleil slum to take them north, away from the earthquake zone.

People desperate to get out filled the makeshift station, where flatbed trucks and brightly festooned old American school buses were packed high with personal belongings.

"It's not possible to live in Port-au-Prince right now, because we don't have a house." Juanita Laura Lee told NPR as she waited to board one of the buses.

She was making her way to Cap-Haitien, about 100 miles north of the capital, along with her sister and three children.

"I don't know when I'm going to come back," she says.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

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