13 June 2016

Respond to disasters with money, not goods

Excerpts from a Reddit discussion thread:
What advice do you have for the general public who want to help in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy (or other crisis events)? 

Do not donate your used items, just give money and in this case blood When the Fort McMurray fire happened they were overloaded with used items that they had no use for and tons of warehouses in Edmonton are filled with people's used crap...

After the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011, the Red Cross actually published ads in newspapers giving guidance about this. They said the reason they wanted money, rather than goods, was threefold: 1) Folks tended to give the wrong things, or too many of one thing and not enough of others (so, in Christchurch, lots and lots of tinned baked beans). If they give money instead the Red Cross can just buy the stuff needed in the right amounts; 2) All the wrong stuff that people give which can't be used has to be either (a) stored or (b) disposed of. Both cost money that could be better spent helping those affected by the disaster; 3) A flood of stuff from outside the disaster area destroys the local economy just when they need help the most. For example, my sister in law runs a corner store in Christchurch. Her family had opened that store every single day, including Christmas and Easter, for over 40 years. After the earthquakes so much food was donated that they ended up closing the store for three months as they had no customers...

Providing free goods and services damages the local economy. Ex-President Clinton admitted that the trade policy his administration imposed on Haiti destroyed Haitian farmers. Small farmers could not compete with U.S. agribusiness and went out of business. Now Haitians rely on aid to buy imported food.

In an article about aid to Africa : "Even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. Say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town Africa. Say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. Typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. A Western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. This promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. In a couple of years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. They'll have to get more aid. And African governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities. In a similar vein has been the approach to food aid, which historically has done little to support African farmers. Under the auspices of the U.S. Food for Peace program, each year millions of dollars are used to buy American-grown food that has to then be shipped across oceans. One wonders how a system of flooding foreign markets with American food, which puts local farmers out of business, actually helps better Africa. A better strategy would be to use aid money to buy food from farmers within the country, and then distribute that food to the local citizens in need."
I'm sure one reason disaster areas are flooded with goods is that companies can donate merchandise that isn't selling, then deduct the value from their taxes as a charitable contribution.


  1. I clearly remember after Hurricane Andrew the piles and piles of "contributions" lying unused and taking up warehouse space and even worse, just dumped along roads as the donations were never coordinated with local groups and access to those in need was controlled for safety and security. It was August in Florida with sweltering heat and humidity and donations of used winter coats and heavy shoes were sent when people needed sandals and ice. I've never forgotten that and so I now sent monetary contributions to charities with a strong record of appropriate help following disasters.

  2. Although the main article is about Drug Dumping my US Pharma, this article does stray a bit wider, and may pique your interest.
    Drug Donations - corporate charity or taxpayer subsidy?
    The bit that came to mind on reading the tywk article was "An American PVO charity sent crates of Double D bras to the earthquake stricken people of Kobi in Japan"

  3. Very good and thought-provoking, friends in England volunteered their services after devastating floods hit several areas, and they had similar observations. Truck loads of donations arrived from various supermarket chains, soups of wildly unpopular flavours, nearing their sell-by dates, vast amounts of bread that would go mouldy, produce that needed to be cooked quickly, or would be wasted. But only army field-kitchens were able to cook as there was no electricity or mains gas.
    Oh. And let's not forget the big box of donated pregnancy test kits.


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