CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The flood of aid pouring into the Philippines has once again shed light on a polarizing issue in the international relief community. Like donations sent to Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake in 2010 and South Asia after a tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in 2004, Filipino relief organizations are receiving contestably useless materials that prompt the question of whether they help or hinder recovery.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently collaborated with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and published the results of a study comparing assistance programs that provided cash, food baskets and supermarket vouchers in Ecuador, Niger, Uganda and Yemen. Although this was a small-case study, their results indicated that donation helpfulness depends on each particular region.
“Findings revealed that there is no one ‘right’ transfer modality,” stated the IFPRI blog. “The relative effectiveness of different modalities depends heavily on contextual factors such as the severity of food insecurity and the thickness of markets for grains and other foods.”
Despite these results, relief programs continue to argue over which donations are best. Several organizations are now dedicated to the spread of informed donating in order to avoid Stuff We Don’t Want (SWEDOW). In a recent article by Slate contributor Jessica Alexander, she articulates how hand-me-downs sent by well-intentioned Americans results in unexpected consequences.
“Someone has to unload those donations, someone needs to sort through them for customs, someone needs to truck them to affected areas which are hard to reach anyway and where there’s a limited supply of fuel,” said Alexander in her November 11 article. “When old shoes and clothes are sent from the (United States), they just waste people’s time and slow down getting lifesaving medicines and food to affected people.”
Alexander voices an opinion shared by others dedicated to foreign aid, many of whom believe that material donations bring on more troubles than they’re worth. A common argument against material-based aid is the detrimental effects on local markets. An influx of foreign good, including food, into devastated areas may undermind local markets settling the same thing and could permanently prevent them from ever recovering.
However, there are those who dispute these findings and argue for the continued viability of clothing donations. The multi-billion dollar organization World Vision is steadfast in their commitment to product-based aid, which comprises approximately one quarter of their annual revenue, or $251 million per year as of 2012.
“Program needs—both short-term and long-term—comprise the primary reason World Vision accepts product donations,” states their website. “[Staff members] understanding of a community’s needs and their ability to communicate those needs enable support offices, such as World Vision U.S., to build appropriate relationships with donors and acquire resources to meet those needs.”
Whether contributors decide to donate money or goods, there exists reputable websites that share how best to provide both. InterAction.org and CIDI.org (Center for International Disaster Information) both provide several alternative options related directly to Typhoon Haiyan relief. Before giving, verify through these sites, and others if necessary, that donations are going to a reputable source. Responsible, informed giving is key to effective relief and it is primarily through education and self-awareness that that is achieved.
– Emily Bajet