With Good Intentions Come Great Responsibility
When witnessing great suffering in the wake of a disaster, many people feel a strong desire to help. The ways in which people choose to help have a direct impact on disaster relief – in the lives of survivors, on the organizations assisting them, and on the relief effort overall. When people give, it’s important that their donations answer actual needs that have been carefully assessed in disaster-affected areas. USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information has coined the term Smart Compassion to describe donors and donations that help the greatest number of survivors and do the least amount of harm. What is Smart Compassion?
People demonstrate Smart Compassion when they channel their energy and desire to help those in need in constructive ways. Compassionate people feel the suffering of others deeply and many want to help urgently and in a personal way. For some people, canned food, bottled water and used clothing are more satisfying to donate because they are tangible, personal items one might give to a friend in need. They can also be collected quickly and dispatched to the disaster site. But even in the worst disaster situation, clean water, food and clothing are available near the disaster-affected area. Sending more gets in the way of staging and delivering locally procured life-saving supplies. Uninvited donations take responders’ time to manage and may put local merchants out of business, creating what relief workers call “the second disaster”. Unsolicited material donations are also exponentially more expensive for donors to send, incur more costs every time they change hands and leave a big carbon footprint in their wake. This is what happens when good intentions go awry.
The needs of survivors can change rapidly as they migrate to safety and begin receiving emergency care. The only way to meet their changing needs is to support the relief workers who care for survivors directly. This, along with the very high cost to donors of sending material items overseas and the harm those items may cause to disaster relief operations and their intended recipients, is why USAID CIDI, NGOs and charitable organizations advise donors that monetary donations to proven relief organizations are the most effective way to help survivors.
Monetary donations enable relief organizations to purchase exactly what survivors need, when they need it. Even small monetary contributions can do a great deal of good; helping more people at lower cost than unsolicited material donations do. At USAID CIDI we provide donors with the knowledge and the tools to practice Smart Compassion and turn good intentions into great outcomes all over the world.