Where Things Stand: U.S. Charity Donations to Haiti

Half a billion dollars raised, but most of it still sits in banks.

February 10, 2010, 10:46 PM

Feb. 11, 2010 -- The images from Haiti were devastating: of hands reaching out from under piles of rubble, of slabs of concrete where buildings once stood, and of orphaned children crying out for their parents.

They awoke a sleeping giant in Americans. People wanted to help. In the days and weeks after the earthquake, charitable donations poured in to relief organizations

All over the country Americans opened their wallets and poured almost half a billion dollars into 23 top American charities, according to figures compiled by ABC News.

ABC News reached out to these charities to find out more about where all of the money was going.

While some of the money is being spent, most of it still sits in bank accounts.

Following the Money

When asked by ABC News to provide numbers on spending for food & water, medical care, shelter and operational costs, four of the organizations -- Operation USA, American Refugee Committee, Merlin and Doctors Without Borders -- did not offer specifics. The most common answer was they just, "don't have the exact breakdown," on current spending. Several of organizations offered up descriptions of specific relief, but were not able to assign dollar figures to their efforts.

The largest recipient of donations-- the Red Cross-- said it's spent about a third of the quarter billion dollars it raised, mostly on food and water but also on shelter items like tents, blankets and tarps. The Red Cross is also providing hygiene kits, kitchen sets, drinking water and vaccinations.

Another organization, Oxfam America has opened eight different sites in Haiti, providing clean drinking water and latrines. They say they are serving 90,000 people.

And a medium-sized charity -- International Medical Corps -- raised $4.5 million and has spent about $1.6 million. They began operating at Haiti's University hospital on the day after the earthquake. The group is "operating 13 mobile clinic sites covering 15 sites," according to their Web site, serving a target population of approximately 450,000.

World Vision provided the most detail about its work. As of Feb. 5, World Vision raised about $77 million worldwide including $25 million in cash from the U.S. Among their priorities-- shelter, water and sanitation, and efforts to protect children.

The Hope for Haiti Now telethon also aided the relief efforts in a big way.

Americans donated $66 million through the telethon; about half of the money has been distributed to seven different charities--

On its Web site, the telethon organizers say they expect to make one or two more large distributions. But the next allocation of funds is not planned until May.

Donation Breakdown

In total, of the half a billion dollars sent to Haiti relief organizations contacted by ABC News, 18 percent is already being spent on food and water, Additionally, 11 percent is going toward medical supplies and clinics, six percent on housing, and two percent on operations.

For a closer look at the ABC News' breakdown of charity donations, click: U.S. Charity Donations to Haiti

But here's the catch. The money now being spent is only a small fraction of the total donations given. Most of the donations made to the relief efforts -- 69 percent or $325 million -- have not been spent on anything yet.

"The ability of the organizations to manage this tremendous volume of need and with their infrastructure -- they can only do just so much at any given time," Ken Berger, President and Executive Director of Charity Navigator said.

Some of the explanation for why groups are not spending more of their donations at the moment is intentional planning.

"There's a conscious effort to have a certain amount dedicated to the immediate and then a significant amount for the longer term," Berger said.

"This is common for large-scale disaster response efforts by reputable NGOs. For example, for the Asia tsunami response, World Vision spent approximately 40 percent of its response budget in the first year of its multi-year relief and recovery response," said Rachel E. L. Wolff, spokeswoman for World Vision.

But there's more to it than that.

Problems with Distribution

Organizations might be able to get more help to Haiti if there were better coordination, Berger said.

The U.S. government is coordinating its government money through U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.S. State Department says the United Nations is in charge of coordinating the global relief effort.

The United Nations has tapped former President Bill Clinton to coordinate its efforts. But when ABC News called Clinton's office, a spokesman said Clinton "is not operationally in command" of distributing aid in Haiti.

There are also political sensitivities involved. The Haitian government is ultimately in charge of its country, but the government was weak to begin with and further decimated by the earthquake.

The bottom line? A Red Cross relief worker in Haiti told ABC News no one is in charge. He said they are waiting for someone -- anyone -- to step up.

Situation On the Ground

Holding back donation money has slowed down certain aspects of the aid effort.

Nine out of ten people who need shelter don't have a proper tent to sleep in, and the tropical rainy season is just a few weeks away.

"We need to have improved structures for everyone before the hurricane season," said Kristen Knutson of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

According to OCHA, there are more than 1.2 million people living in so-called "spontaneous settlements," and nearly half a million who have fled Port-au-Prince, putting added stress on neighboring towns.

Because of all of the crowding, there is no room for showers and toilets. So far, there are only 900 latrines for 900,000 people who need them in Port-au-Prince.

There are some bright spots on the ground -- food distribution has picked up. Approximately, two million people are in need of food and 2.2 million have received a two-week supply. Still, many Haitians complain of shortages.

Clean water, according to OCHA, reaches nearly 800,000 people a day.

The delivery of relief supplies is also going more smoothly. Roads are open, the port is being repaired and the traffic coming into the airport is half of what it was two weeks ago.

The biggest concern now is that disease could overwhelm hospitals still packed with earthquake victims.

Keep Giving

It is still a challenge to organize and distribute all of this aid in a disaster area the size of Yellowstone National Park. Everyone we spoke with said Americans should not be disheartened that some of their donations remain in some charity's holding docks.

Haiti is still in desperate need of international assistance and all of the charities we talked with said they would eventually use all of the money donated for Haiti.

"All funds raised will be used for Haiti relief and rebuilding efforts, which will take years, not months," the spokeswoman for World Vision told us.

So what should Americans do? Give, says Berger. But give wisely.

"The heart of the American people, over and over again, it's just amazing," Berger said. "Use your head as well as your heart. Do a little due-diligence and think through the best way to give."

Despite the fact that some organizations could not provide ABC News with details of their work, most American charities are more transparent about their giving than ever before. In many cases, the Internet makes it easy for donors to track where there money is going.

ABC News' Daniel Arnall, Mary Kate Burke and Susan Kriskey contributed to this report.

For more information about individual charities, check:



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