18 January 2010

Exploitation of earthquakes and other disasters

Carrion-eaters are not the only ones to profit from the death and destruction attendant on natural disasters.  Most adults are aware that mixed in with legitimate fund-raising efforts are a variety of scams asking you to send money to people/organizations that will then send it on to the victims.  A column at Technorati this week examines whether credit financial institutions are pocketing processing fees for donations.

Some individuals and corporations take advantage of disasters by dumping huge amounts of outdated or worthless materials to the victims, and then writing off the contributions as tax deductions.
But aid workers joked that the real tsunami was followed by another tsunami — of misguided goodwill. In an effort to help, people shipped boxes, often following the instructions of local television news programs. And so in Aceh, Indonesia amid the trauma, hunger and devastation, care packages piled up containing everything from pajamas and teddy bears to birth control pills and Bibles — a hodgepodge impossible to sort through. There were boxes filled with half-used ointments and prescription drugs, as if do-gooders had cleaned out their medicine cabinets...

The group found that although officials didn’t request any medicine, they received 4,000 metric tons of it, or more than 4 pounds for each person in the tsunami-affected area. There were multiple-year supplies of antibiotics, and palette loads of drugs unknown to health care providers. Seventy percent of it was labeled in a language that locals did not understand...

In the end, most of the drugs had to be incinerated — you can’t simply send such a stock to the dump, where it would seep into the ground water and create another health hazard. That cost donors and the Indonesian government millions...

Aceh was by no means unusual in this regard. Massive shipments of useless medicine arrived on the scenes of other heavily televised disasters, such as the Armenian earthquake in 1988 and the Albanian exodus from Kosovo in the late 1990s. After the war ended in Bosnia, 17,000 tons of inappropriate donations had to be burned, according to Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres.
Photo credit Pharmaciens Sans Frontiers.


  1. As usual, an interesting perspective. It is sad when the will to help is there but misdirected.
    As far as the fudging of donations for taxes, this seems to be a regulation problem. All donations should have to undergo some kind of examination (at least on paper) in order to eliminate this kind of deceptive "charity."

    Many individuals donate material items because they feel that money can be so easily misappropriated or spent wastefully
    Many people just do not trust relief organizations. In Turkey many people refuse to give at all because of so many scandals of charity organizers pocketing massive amounts and fleeing to other countries. Having people like George Bush, Jr. telling people not to send blankets or material items, but to send cash and assuring people that "we will make sure their money is properly spent" does little to assure people, I'm afraid.

  2. I live in South Florida and after Hurricane Andrew, people from northern states emptied their closets and sent clothes - winter clothes included - to people sweltering in the heat. There were massive piles of unusable garments sitting in the rain that had to be trucked out with other hurricane debris, making the clean up process even more difficult.

    Since seeing that, I give monetary donations to known, well established groups that I feel will use it well and which promise that all monies received will go toward disaster relief and not to their administrative costs. Also, giving material donations doesn't mean that they will always go to those in need and not be sold for profit.

    While I know that unscrupulous people will profit from disasters as they do from wars, I cannot in conscience sit on the sidelines and opt out because other people might try to steal. That conduct is on their heads as my conduct is on mine. I hope I will always have the way and means to try to help.


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