Five myths around disaster relief

Edward Brown, relief director for World Vision, debunks five myths around disaster relief. I offer my thoughts on each point in place of Brown’s remarks. This came in the form of a Facebook note:

1. Collecting blankets, shoes and clothing is a cost-effective way to help – When I worked with The 1010 Project, we collected things like computers and notebooks for our partners in Kenya. In the aftermath of election violence in early 2008, we were able to provide materiel that aided in reconstruction and job training.
2. If I send cash, my help won’t get there – Sure it will! Even the most incredibly effective aid organizations have to “borrow” off the top of donations to fund operations. In the case of Haiti and other emergency situations, aid dollars are earmarked for immediate use, even if the funds aren’t technically immediately on hand. EG: The Red Cross has raised many dozens of millions of essentially borrowed dollars, but since the actual donations won’t balance for a few weeks, the Red Cross will essentially be working on borrowed money.
3. Volunteers are desperately needed in emergency situations – Yeah! Volunteer, just not in a disaster zone. Many nonprofits operating on the ground in Haiti need help recording donations and processing the flow of other donations. Help them out, or offer to handle other mundane tasks. Vacuuming an office during a busy week can make a world of difference. :)
4. Unaccompanied children should be adopted as quickly as possible to get them out of dangerous conditions – Unless you are a charity that deals directly with “orphans”, maybe you could just cool it for a little while. Let proper guardians step forward, and if none are available, then activate your networks.
5. People are helpless in the face of natural disasters – Absolute nonsense.  Give a social entrepreneur a dollar, and they’ll stretch it in a dozen different directions. Small-scale aid projects can be carried out by on-the-ground partners while larger orgs debate procedure and directives.

That being said there is still a lot that has to happen in Haiti to make reconstruction work. Let’s hope that we dump the disaster-emergency language and move towards reconstruction-help dialogue.

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