In the days since a deadly 7.0-magnitude earthquake leveled Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday evening, millions of dollars have been pledged to help the search and rescue and relief efforts on the impoverished Caribbean nation.
But where is that aid going?
The most desperate immediate needs of the more than 3 million Haitians who've been impacted by the disaster are food, water, shelter and medical supplies.
Like Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti which is urging people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 to the cause — which has raised more than $2 million so far — many other relief organizations have used mobile messaging to quickly gather funds.
Renee Kelly of the American Red Cross said the more than $8 million the organization has raised to date has largely come from millions of text messages. "We weren't expecting that many, but it's played a huge part," she said of the money raised from people texting "Haiti" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. "We have people on the ground there assessing the needs, which are water, food, shelter and blankets." In total, the Red Cross has released more than $10 million in funds for relief efforts and released $37 million to deal with the dire situation on the ground on the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Kelly said the Red Cross has warehouses all over the world that are stocked with those supplies for just these types of emergencies. The organization already had such a warehouse on Haiti when the earthquake struck, and though it was damaged in the temblor and workers had to be relocated from the ruined building, the team working on the island was able to quickly assess the needs on the ground.
"Based on what the needs are, we can go and get whatever we need to get to make sure people are taken care of," Kelly said. "We have people assessing minute by minute what we need and we had people there before everyone got there, and they told us what they needed immediately was water, food and shelter." In addition, two Red Cross planes are due to land on the island Friday (January 15) carrying a field hospital, tarps, hygiene items such as toilet paper and toothbrushes, buckets and kitchen sets and, on Wednesday, blood and blood products were shipped to the U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay to help support medical evacuees from Haiti.
The Red Cross has already deployed a handful of first responders to join the 12 Red Cross teams from all over the world that include engineers, surgeons and specialists who help reunite families. These teams will also establish field hospitals, restore water and sanitation systems and distribute supplies. A plane with 40 tons of mainly medical supplies was en route to Haiti on Friday.
With the island's already ramshackle water system badly damaged, clean water is one of the most essential items needed in Haiti, as waterborne disease could easily kill as many people as the quake should victims be forced to scrounge for water in spoiled cisterns.
Experts have been warning those wishing to donate to Haitian relief to be wary of organizations that claim 100 percent of their funds will go to victim relief because all charities have overhead and administrative costs and rarely use all the funds raised strictly for relief. They've also suggested that you go with well-known, big organizations such as the American Red Cross and Unicef, who have a long track record with these types of efforts and who typically channel 90 percent of funds into programming/relief.
Other tips from Charity Navigator: avoid telemarketers and anonymous e-mail/text requests for would-be scammers looking to capitalize on the situation, don't be afraid to be suspicious and ask questions, never give your personal or financial information, ask if the charity is registered with an organization like the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, never donate cash and while the immediacy of the social-networking giving that has become the go-to method of donation is inspiring, make sure you do your homework before texting that donation in.
CNN reported that the FBI has already issued a warning about unscrupulous scammers who might be looking to take advantage of the situation in Haiti to solicit bogus appeals.
According to the New York Times, donations from major corporations are also bringing in millions for the effort. So far, Google has pledged $1 million to Unicef and other charities and Microsoft has offered $1.25 million in cash and donations as well as technical support for relief groups in Haiti.