|September 20, 2001
Contact: Stephen M. Apatow,
Humanitarian Resource Institute
Eastern USA: (203) 668-0282
Western USA: (775) 884-4680
HOLDING CHARITIES ACCOUNTABLE
- CRUCIAL IN THE FACE OF PROGRESSIVE CHALLENGES
Recently, the World Trade
Center and Pentagon Terrorist Incidents (http://www.humanitarian.net/interfaith/tradecenter/)
marked the worst acts of terrorism in United States history. These
incidents have prompted a call for military action against international
terrorism in a scenario that is anticipated to last several years with
warnings of economic repercussions.
In the light of the massive
rescue and recovery effort currently underway , the compassion of the American
people has been overwhelming and in proportion to the pain associated with
the loss from this tragedy. But in the midst of this outpouring,
a number of important questions have arisen:
1. How are the millions of
dollars being collected going to be used to directly help the families
of the victims and relief efforts ?
2. Why, after a terrorist
incident in the financial district of Manhattan, are people sending donations
of clothing and other unneeded supplies to NYC ?
3. Since the incident occurred
in conjunction with mass layoffs and an economic downturn which will be
exacerbated by this tragedy, what steps are being taken to support families
throughout the United States that will be directly impacted by these progressive
Answers to these questions,
accountability and public disclosure will be crucial for sustained confidence
and support of charitable organizations in the long term.
Humanitarian Resource Institute
(HRI) maintains America's National Community Needs Database (http://www.humanitarian.net/usdatabase),
a national initiative to bridge the unmet needs of frontline service programs
to untapped resources of professional time, talents, manpower, inkind and
financial donations. HRI is calling for needs assessments from the executive
directors of frontline service programs in every United States county for
inclusion in the National Community Needs Database to support community
planning and project development.
MISGUIDED CHARITY: A MAJOR
PROBLEM FOR DISASTER RELIEF OPERATIONS
TV, satellite phone, web
site and e-mail communication spreads news of disasters to Americans faster
than anyone can figure out what the victims really need. Unfortunately,
disaster experts say that sorting and distributing unsolicited donations
often occupies more than half of all volunteers.
CAUSE STRAIN ON RELIEF OPERATIONS
Honduras: Hurricane Mitch
Tons of unused donations
of unneeded bottled water, food and other items remain both inside and
outside Honduran warehouses while building supplies are scarce, there are
few donated books and, despite widespread fear of mosquito-borne diseases,
there’s little donated repellent.
Many of these unsolicited
donations have compromised lifesaving relief efforts and exposed victims
to new dangers. According to World Relief, a humanitarian aid group
that handled Miami's 100-ton-a-day stream of donations, “Effectiveness
could have at least doubled, if they would have been able to get the appropriate
relief in when people needed it.” For a month, at the height
of the disaster, clothes, bottled water and other unclaimed shipments jammed
Puerto Cortes, Honduras’ main port, impeded the delivery of pipes for water
treatment plants and of food for Mitch victims living in shelters.
can even cause harm, as was seen when powerful new U.S. antibiotics were
shipped to rural Honduran clinics without Spanish-language instructions
for health care providers. Also shipped was infant formula that, if mixed
with contaminated water, could kill a child from diarrhea in 24 hours.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, there were situations
where out of 15 pallets of pharmaceuticals, three-quarters of them
turned out to be trash and one-quarter essential.
In strife-torn Bosnia, the
international nonprofit medical team Doctors Without Borders estimates
the quantity of unusable drugs accumulated between 1992 and 1996 totaled
a staggering 18,000 tons.
North Dakota: 1997
Red River Flood
After the Red River flood,
donated clothing, piled and sorted using a front-end loader, filled a hangar
at the Grand Forks airport to a height of 10 feet.
Miami, Florida: Hurricane
After Hurricane Andrew, South
Florida’s unwanted clothes pile topped 17 feet and at least 5 acres of
used clothing was buried or incinerated. Tons of donated house paint, thinner,
solder and other hazardous waste was dumped into a landfill at a Homestead,
Reference: Frank Greve,
Knight Ridder Newspapers
GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE
PRIVATE SECTOR INTERNATIONAL DISASTER ASSISTANCE:
Confirm There is a Need for
All Items Being Collected.
Do not make assumptions about
the needs of disaster victims. Exactly what is needed can be confirmed
by checking with an established relief organization that has personnel
working on-site. Do not send what is not needed; unneeded commodities compete
with priority relief items for transportation and storage. Organizations
that receive in-kind relief donations can help this process by clearly
communicating what items are required (in what size, type, etc.) as well
as clearly stating what items or services are NOT needed. Please remember,
certain foods, particularly in famine situations, can make victims ill.
In most cases, donations of canned goods are not appropriate. The collection
of bottled water is highly inefficient. It is important to have an accurate
analysis of need before determining response.
Donate Only to Organizations
having the Ability to Transport Collected Items to the Affected Region
Immediately after a disaster,
many local organizations will spontaneously begin collecting miscellaneous
items for use in disaster relief. However, at the time that these collections
are begun, agency officials will not have thought about to whom, or how,
the items will be sent. It is not unusual for community and civic groups
to have collected several thousands of pounds of relief supplies only to
find that they do not know whom to send the supplies to and that they do
not have viable transportation options for shipping the goods. At this
juncture, it is often advisable for those collecting the goods to auction
them off locally, converting commodities into cash to be applied to the
Deliver Items Only to Organizations
having Local Distribution Capacity
Distributing relief supplies
requires personnel and financial resources within the affected country.
To efficiently distribute relief commodities, staff, warehouses, trucks
and communications equipment are required. It is not enough to gather supplies
and send them to an affected region; a sound partnership with a reliable
local agency having transport and management capacity is
Donated Items Must Be High
Quality, Well Packed, and Clearly Labeled
Items that are not well-packed
and clearly labeled must be sorted and repacked by the recipient organizations.
And relief organizations need to pay to have this work done. Donated goods
should be packed in small boxes that can be easily managed. The boxes must
be well-labeled so that it does not become necessary to open each. It is
best if two envelopes with specific content lists are taped to the side
of every box sent. This allows anyone interested, including customs officials
and relief workers, to quickly determine what the box contains. Be sure
to follow the receiving agency's packing regulations.
Never Assume the U.S. Government
or any Relief Agency Will Transport Unsolicited Relief Items Free of Charge
It is important to make arrangements
for the transportation before collecting any kind of material donations.
Never assume that the government or any relief agency will transport donations
free of charge (or even for a fee). In the majority of cases, the collecting
agency will be responsible for paying commercial rates for the transportation
and warehousing of items gathered.
Volunteer Opportunities for
Disaster Relief are Extremely Limited
Volunteers without prior
disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments.
Candidates with the greatest chance of being selected have fluency in the
language of the disaster-stricken area, prior disaster relief experience,
and expertise in technical fields such as medicine, communications logistics,
water/sanitation engineering. In many cases, these professionals are already
available in-country. Most agencies will require at least ten years of
experience, as well as several years of experience working overseas. It
is not unusual to request that volunteers make a commitment to spend at
least three months working on a particular disaster. Most offers of "another
body" to drive trucks, set up tents, and feed children are not accepted.
Keep in mind that once a relief agency accepts a volunteer, they are responsible
for the volunteer's well-being -i.e., food, shelter, health and security.
Resources are strained during a disaster, and another person without the
necessary technical skills and experience can often be a considerable burden
to an ongoing relief effort.
Monetary Contributions to
Established Relief Agencies are Always the Most Useful Response to Disasters
Financial contributions allow
professional relief organizations to purchase exactly what is most urgently
needed by disaster victims and to pay for the transportation necessary
to distribute those supplies. Unlike in-kind donations, cash donations
entail no transportation cost. In addition, cash donations allow relief
supplies to be purchased at locations as near to the disaster site as possible.
Supplies, particularly food, can almost always be purchased locally - even
in famine situations. This approach has the triple advantage of stimulating
local economies (providing employment, generating cash flow), ensuring
that supplies arrive as quickly as possible and reducing transport and
storage costs. Cash contributions to established legitimate relief agencies
are always considerably more beneficial than the donation of commodities.
These Guidelines are excerpts
from Managing Resource Coordination for Sudden-Onset Foreign Disasters:
A Case Study Focusing on the United States' Response to Hurricane Gilbert/Jamaica
by David Callahan. VITA. 1989.
VITA's Center for International
Disaster Information (CIDI) is in the process of surveying the public regarding
their opinions about international disaster response. There are both
a public and corporate survey available online on the Center's web site
at http://www.cidi.org .