Good Intentions Hinder Response to Canada’s Wildfires

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you may have heard that wildfires continue to rage in Alberta, Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported yesterday that 1,000 additional firefighters from across Canada, the United States, South Africa and other countries will soon join the 1,200-member crew working to contain the fires that have destroyed homes, land and livelihoods.

The destruction brought by the Alberta wildfires has been matched by an outpouring of generosity from people around the world who seek to help those who have lost everything. But unintentionally—and perhaps counterintuitively—the kind of help they’re providing is actually hindering the response.

Over the past month, Canadian media has reached out to USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information because unsolicited donations   have begun to spiral into what we at CIDI and many others in the humanitarian community call the “second disaster.”

I’ve been fielding questions about how to effectively support people in need (give cash to relief organizations!), and the unintended consequences of unsolicited material donations (cluttered runways, stuffed warehouses, diverted emergency resources, mold, health hazards). Take a read or watch some of my recent interviews about how best to help, and gain insight into why cash provides the most effective and lasting support to Alberta residents and to responders on the ground:

The National Post: After Fort McMurray Fire, Alberta Copes with ‘Second Disaster’ of Misguided Donations

Canada TV: Fort McMurray Fire: Unusable Donations Flood Warehouse

CBS Sunday Morning: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything but Relief

For more information on the impacts of unsolicited donations, please visit us at