Disasters are indiscriminate when they strike. They can be anywhere, in any country, at any time and they have devastating effects on the communities and countries they touch. Throughout the world, nearly 25.8 million people are affected by a natural disaster each year. This number is only increasing due to effects of climate change, which increases the severity and destruction caused by these disasters.
In the aftermath, communities can face difficult long-term issues such as drought, famine and disease. International relief must not only address the direct effects of disasters, but also the long-term rebuilding efforts that will mitigate the communities from falling into other disasters like disorder, conflict and violence.
- Disaster relief addresses everything from hurricanes and earthquakes to conflict and famine.
Disaster /noun/: something that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss to many people
The definition of a disaster includes much more than natural events like earthquakes, tsunamis, fires and floods. Other events like a plane crash, famine, AIDS, disease and war are all disasters that warrant international disaster relief.
- Disasters are costly on many levels.
Between 2000 and 2012, natural disasters caused $1.7 trillion in damage and affected 2.9 billion people worldwide. During that time, 1.1 million people were killed as a result of natural disasters. With this much destruction, humanitarian disaster relief is crucial for helping communities rebuild.
- Climate change, growing populations and environmental degradation all contribute to the increase in frequency and severity of disasters around the world.
The communities that are most prone to natural disasters are often the ones that are least able to cope with the effects. Just as climate change will most severely affect those contributing to it the least, natural disasters will disproportionally affect people living in disaster-prone areas around the world.
- There are a multitude of reputable international agencies that engage in disaster relief.
Organizations such as Relief International, Mercy Corps, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, International Orthodox Christian Charities, United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) are just some of many organizations that provide services and resources when disasters strike around the world.
- The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (under USAID) is the main U.S. office that responds to disasters around the world.
On average, OFDA responds to approximately 70 disasters in 56 countries every year. These include everything from volcanoes and floods, to drought and conflict. The office coordinates with USAID as well as with regional government offices to address the needs of those affected by disasters.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross is the oldest and most prominent disaster relief organization.
Founded in 1863, ICRC has become one of the most important relief agencies in the world. ICRC addresses not only the immediate disaster effects, but also the long, drawn-out effects that tend to arise afterward: competition for resources, migration, urbanization and environmental degradation. Disaster relief goes beyond just rebuilding the broken infrastructure, but on to addressing longer-term issues.
- Competition between organizations can be a problem when responding to disasters.
For many years, despite the good intentions of many organizations in the international community, whenever disaster struck, competition would often ensue between NGOs, and inefficiencies in providing aid would become a major problem.
In response to this, following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, The Sphere Project along with the U.N. and 400 other NGOs came together and created the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response handbook. The handbook provides minimum performance guidelines and standards that must be met by NGOs working in a disaster area in order to be most effective.
- There are 6 internationally agreed upon core standards for disaster relief.
The Sphere Project created the six standards to serve as guidelines for how organizations should approach their humanitarian responses whenever they work in a disaster hit community. Adhering to the standards increases the chances that aid will be most effective and efficient. The standards are:
- People-centered humanitarian response
- Coordination and collaboration
- Design and response
- Performance, transparency and learning
- Aid work performance
- The best way to help victims of international disasters is not by collecting goods, but by giving financial donations.
Cash contributions allow relief organizations to purchase what is most needed – without transportation or storage costs added on. By providing a monetary donation, relief supplies can be bought near or at the disaster site, which decreases the time it takes for relief to reach the victims, while also stimulating the local economy. If cash is the preferred method for agencies, it is important that those contributing feel comfortable with the organization. Cash has a much greater impact than goods, so it is a vital part of relief efforts.
- Small or large, all donations make a difference
Even a small amount of money can help purchase life-saving antibiotics for disaster victims. In Haiti, $5 buys a life-saving course of antibiotics. In Zimbabwe, $10 provides regular healthcare for 90 people in one year. In Java, $50 provides 1-month food supply to volunteers rebuilding homes for earthquake victims.
– Andrea Blinkhorn
Sources: ICRC, PSAid, UN, Global Corps, Red Cross, Do Something, Encyclopedia.comDisasterium
Photo: Red Cross