Hurricane Matthew: Disaster Relief Explained

I want to write a follow-up blog to the one I wrote about emergency aid and disaster relief. Emergency aid is absolutely necessary and it is the first step, but the process to go from emergency aid to relief to rebuilding to normalcy is a long and difficult road. I also want to clarify some of my points from that blog as I was simply getting you the links to those organizations on the ground. If you want to read through All Things New’s long term plan for our ministry and for our community, please click here.

So let me clarify some things about disaster relief from the perspective of someone who lives down here, has heard from other missionaries, and has thought through this over the previous few years. Please let me know if you have any questions after this, and I hope this can lead all of us as we try our best to help a nation and an area that has truly been devastated by this event.

  1. Why smaller organizations? Smaller organizations generally have less overhead, less red tape, and in general an easier time getting supplies to the people who need it. I hate to pick on the Red Cross again or the Clinton Foundation, but donations came flowing in after the earthquake here and nobody here can figure out where all of that money went. It has to funnel through so many channels and they have to pay so many support staffers and administrative costs that, while the money flows in to the organization it generally only trickles out. On top of that, there are very very few large organizations who have a local presence when a disaster hits, but there are many smaller organizations who do. That is why we are sending people to Hope for Haiti and KORE because we know they will operate quickly and effectively!
  2. Why organizations who are on the ground already? I am sure that I do not need to answer this question because it is so evident, but so many people give to organizations who were not previously in the disaster area or even in the same country! The organizations we are advertising are already there. They know the landscape, they know who to trust and more importantly not to trust, and most importantly they have connections. They can buy local supplies when available and the people from whom they buy will then have the ability to care for themselves and their families. Any organization who is not already here will have a huge learning curve and with a learning curve comes waste and delays for a situation that cannot handle either.
  3. Why is it important to purchase relief supplies locally? One of the biggest mistakes with disaster relief occurs when supplies that could be purchased in the affected area or at least in country are purchased in America or elsewhere and sent down. I know that, initially, this has to happen a little bit, but it is vital that we support organizations who desire to buy local products when they come available. There are many people whose livelihoods depend on selling food, building supplies, and even water. The problem is that when other organizations or governments send down “free” supplies to a country like Haiti, local economies are all but destroyed at the very time when they need to be built back up. You could write a whole book about how devastating supply donations can be to local economies, but hopefully you get the gist.
  4. Is it more important to give or to go? Right now it is absolutely, 100% better to give than to go. Are you a doctor, a contractor, a water purifier, or a farmer who wants to use your expertise to help? That is great, and in a few weeks it will be very much needed. For now, however, it is much more effective to send money to the experts on the ground and when they are ready and needing volunteers, they will let you know.
  5. How will this affect Haiti in the coming weeks and months? This is too complicated of a question to answer well, but there are some things that I and many others are worried about.
    1. Agriculture was destroyed. There is the potential for a critical food shortage throughout Haiti in the coming months. It is vital that organizations work together and ensure that new crops and trees are planted and that aid comes in to bridge the gap.
    2. Common relief mistakes could be made again. After the earthquake, and really to this day, there was an influx of “free” rice from aid organizations in America and around the world. The problem with this is that most of the supplies went to a very small number of people and those people hoarded much of what they received. Just a few weeks later they began to sell the supplies they received for a reduced rate (after all it was free to them) undercutting people who could not produce things for the same price. Let’s pray that aid does not destroy local markets and businesses.
    3. An increase of donations and new organizations. When disasters happen people give and when people give other people take. After the earthquake “orphanages” began popping up all over the place and, rather than taking care of children, many of them were formed because their directors wanted a cut of the aid money. This is despicable, but it happens in a lot of different forms. Be careful who you give to and who you trust!

There is always a chance that a community and a nation can come back even stronger after a devastating event like this. Let’s pray that this is the case for the area affected by the hurricane as well as the nation as a whole. While we are praying, let’s also do our best to give wisely and take part in affective and transformative disaster relief.

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