When disasters, such as floods, bombings, or earthquakes strike, people naturally want to help. This is humanistic and laudable but experts want to caution people who are looking to send aid because a surprising amount of charitable donations are more disastrous than helpful.
Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jose Holguin Veras said, “If you go to a lot of disasters, as I do on a regular basis, you are going to find out talking to first responders that their number one issue is inappropriate disaster aid. They continually refer to that as the second disaster.”
Some donations Holguin Veras has come across? Wedding gowns, tuxedos, broken bikes, broken medical equipment, expired medications, undrinkable drinks, and sex toys. Holguin Veras estimated that about 60% of charitable donations are “completely useless and should not be there.” Even appropriate items can be problematic. For example, an amount of in-kind donations at disaster sites can clog roadways and prevent vital things, like water being trucked in, from making it into the sites. Another example comes from the Sandy Hook tragedy in which donors sent so many teddy bears and stuffed animals that the town had to ask for those type of donations to stop. The town finally finished the task of sending items that it could not use to India at the end of March.
Disaster relief experts say the most effective way to help is by sending monetary donations. Charitable organizations on the ground know what supplies are needed and more funding helps them be more effective. The Red Cross notes that material donations are not ideal because “these items often must be sorted, repackaged, and transported, which impedes valuable resources of money, time, and personnel that are needed for other aspects of our disaster relief operation.”
Make your donation count by donating to reputable organizations that are active in the area of the disaster. Disaster aid can only works if it is helping to create positive change.
– Essee Oruma