People like to say that this is the Age of Connectedness. Yes, we are more connected. But we’ve always been connected—now it is on a much more intimate and expansive level. Humanity has always sought connectedness. We’ve been exchanging ideas for thousands of years; initially through conquest and trade, now exchange occurs through expedient international travel and the Internet. Diaspora groups are a manifestation of this continued connectedness as community boundaries have reshaped and expanded in our modern era.
At USAID Center for International Disaster Information, we hosted the first organized event in our history. On November 13th, “Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations” welcomed a brilliant set of panelists, each engaging diaspora communities in different ways, with robust discussion about diaspora communities’ roles following disaster events. Each panelist touched upon the importance of the connectedness of our world and how diaspora groups are an active expression of this.
USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Asa Piyaka expounded upon the shifting role diaspora communities are playing in disaster relief. Diasporas play such a crucial role during disaster, he explained, because these communities already have ties to the affected region and are typically more tuned-in to what is needed than international relief organizations may be. USAID CIDI’s own Barlin Ali conveyed that diasporas and charities wish to send remittances and donated cash to disaster-affected areas. However, in addition to the power of cash during emergencies, it is crucial to provide education about responsible giving in order to maximize its efficacy and impact.
During a disaster, remittances sent to countries of origin by diaspora communities are often the only stable source of income, stated Safiya Khalid of the Institute of Immigration Research at George Mason. For example, in the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka received government and NGO money to provide fishermen with boats; nonetheless, it was remittances that provided the nets with which to fish. Remittances aren’t without associated challenges, including misdirected money. Katherine Gupta of the US Treasury Department outlined avenues in which remittances can be given safely and transparently.
Diaspora groups send remittances and concerned citizens donate to communities stricken by crises because each are affected by the global reverberations during their aftermaths. Professor Terrence Lyons of George Mason University mentioned that “communities are not bounded by territory, they are transnational.” That to be a part of a diaspora community is to be both “simultaneously a Virginian and a Liberian. Those links of affinity, that you have an obligation to this community . . . that is what drives so much of the politics and the donations, and the remittances.”
Our global community is transformed by the immediate communicative and physical connection we all now have. When disaster strikes, it is no longer an isolated incidence as it may have been a hundred years ago; rather, it now impacts the world on a global and a regional level. Diaspora groups are a realization of the expansion of distinctive regional communities. These communities, especially diaspora, are poised better than ever to respond to disaster and reshape our global recovery efforts.