Here’s a great article from humanitarian aid worker Jessica Alexandar: Five myths about helping the Philippines. In this article Jessica explains & brings truth to a few myths that have been commonly mistaken amongst the humanitarian world:
1. Locals in disaster areas wait for the international community to come save them.
2. Goods and services are “free” donations.
3. If aid agencies give affected people cash, they won’t spend it on the right things.
4. Earmarking donations guarantees that the money will be well spent.
5. Volunteers on the ground are always a help.
From my university research I have learnt well that whilst many people overseas wanting to donate items think their donations must be going some good, in reality there’s much more backstage logistics that many don’t understand. The cost of transporting these donations & overall energy used (such as fuel in transportation) often end up costing a whole lot more than acquiring the same items locally. Also as Jessica states in her article, by the time these donations finally reach ground zero, the most urgent need might have shifted elsewhere.
Another point highlighted that many should also be aware of is that often unexperienced volunteers arrive to help become more of a hassle, no matter how well they mean. There is truth in stating that “those who want to clear rubble take jobs that Filipinos can do better”. Imagine a natural disaster striking your own town, and people who are from other towns come flooding in to help. They would have to be briefed on what to do, where to go, where to get equipment, where to get food… just to name a few. Time & energy spent on helping volunteers to help the locals could be better spent on actually getting the job done. Now obviously this goes for places with a huge amount of population, but think about it…
There is one point in which I found very interesting in the article. It’s the combination of points 3 &4 . Jessica talks about how locals are selling what they have been given by the aid agencies in return for cash, and that cash have proven to be a better form of aid. Would this only work for certain countries? Would this introduce new & different issues? And how would these cash handouts be tracked?
For those interested, Jessica has also published her book Chasing Chaos covering her experiences in and out of humanitarian aid for the last decade.