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Considering Donations for an International Humanitarian Response

Considering Donations for an International Humanitarian Response

hose pumping waterSurvivors of the super Typhoon Haiyan wait for a C-130 military plane at Tacloban airport, Leyte province, central Philippines, on November 12, 2013, days after super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the city. Photo credit: AFP / Ted Aljibe.

Andrea Burniske, Purdue International Extension Program Coordinator

You can respond to international disasters. Being informed about international humanitarian response will improve the odds that your response counts.

Monetary Response

The best response for 90 percent of us is a monetary donation. Donations are personal, and if you have a connection to a specific organization, inquire about their area of focus in the response (food, shelter, water, protection, etc.); whether they were already working in the particular country before the disaster. This information below will help you make an informed donation.

For reasons explained below, in-kind donations rarely make a good donation. If your local organization is collecting goods to donate internationally, be inquisitive about how they will be used.

In person response

Most of us do not have the skills or connections to respond internationally. If this is something you are considering, do not do it alone or spontaneously. If you have the skills and experience, (such as medical, or public health or engineering background) you might be able to volunteer with an international response organization that is able to mobilize volunteers. It is important to have the requisite skills and experience because responding effectively to a disaster is a very challenging undertaking. Time spent orienting unprepared volunteers, and resources spent housing and feeding them, represents time and aid that could have gone to survivors of the disaster.

As noted above, monetary donations are best. If you want to help, please review the short information provided here before donating.

Why it is usually not a good idea to send material donations

In short, because these do not respond to the needs of disaster victims; they are not standardized goods; and there is no distribution mechanism for these items. Give money directly to experienced NGOs (and agencies like UN World Food Program and UNICEF) that have a presence on the ground in the disaster zone. Address greatest needs through these NGOs and prevent costly shipment and disposal of un-needed, unsolicited goods that can clog distribution points, be wasted or cause other harm. Recognize that monetary donations make possible regional purchases that also avoid international shipment hassles, reduce shipment costs, create local jobs and support the recovery of the local economy. Monetary donations also help the local economy because purchases can be made locally if the involved organization deems that to be the responsible action. The United States Agency for International Development-sponsored Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) is an excellent resource for understanding how and where to donate or volunteer.

The following list (from Catholic Relief Services) is an example of the kinds of items that disaster victims need. It demonstrates why it is more effective to make cash donations:

  • Emergency Shelter for 32,000 families
  • Water Supply and Hygiene for 32,000 families
  • Non-food-item kits for 32,000 families
  • 45,000 person-days of Cash-for-Work community clean-up and debris removal
  • 3,167 Latrines
  • 48 bathing cubicles
  • 207 water tanks
  • 300 waste disposal bins

The items need to be standard in quality, quantity, and content. Distribution must be organized so that all items are carefully labeled and packaged; there is a secure and warehousing; and a controlled distribution system. Lists of the specifications of these items, as well as details of what is required in the given culture, are created by the UN responders and their partners. Items will be sourced locally if possible, so as not to disrupt the local markets. Learn How to Help Typhoon Survivors.

These organizations' websites give you an idea of what these organizations are doing.

Learn more about how the international humanitarian aid system works.