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“What is altruism without effort?”

As a researcher at USAID CIDI, I have spent a great deal of my time conducting research on humanitarian supply chain logistics.  As a result, I now know that the effectiveness of the humanitarian supply chain is critical to the success of disaster relief efforts. We as donors can help logisticians working for professional humanitarian organizations more effectively plan disaster relief operations and better serve survivors by making more effective donations.

When we contribute unsolicited material donations, these can create “logistical bottlenecks” in the humanitarian supply chain that can slow down the provision of aid to those in need.  For this reason, I donate cash to professional humanitarian organizations responding to international disasters because I want to provide them with the opportunity to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While it’s not always easy find NGOs that are trustworthy, actively involved in a relief effort, or participating in a way that we as donors want to contribute to, the internet is making it easier for us as donors to do our homework and identify professional humanitarian organizations that we want to support. Websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator allow us to read reviews from other donors that share their experiences with donating to a particular NGO and offer donors the ability to measure an NGOs legitimacy by evaluating their financial statements, tax returns, and more.  This process does require some time, but what is altruism without effort?

As donors, we rarely consider what happens to our donations after we make them. When I think about what would need to happen for an item to leave my hands and enter the hands of an international disaster survivor, it becomes clear that an incredibly complicated and expensive journey must ensue. How much would it cost to send a pair of jeans from Los Angeles, California to Kabul, Afghanistan?  The answer is roughly $202.05 if you bought the jeans at WalMart and sent them to Afghanistan through FedEx.  Though this isn’t the primary method donors choose to send donations, the process for NGOs that receive unsolicited in-kind contributions is much the same and equally costly.

Monetary contributions, by contrast, provide NGOs with much greater flexibility in the way they can carry out disaster relief operations.  NGOs can exercise bulk purchasing power in countries where the cost of goods in general is considerably less than the cost of the same goods in the United States.  With monetary contributions, NGOs can more easily respond to changing needs on the ground, which is a common occurrence in the wake of severe natural disasters.

I donate cash to international disaster relief efforts for all these reason and simply because monetary donations allow efficient humanitarian supply chains that provide goods and services to disaster-affected people faster.



Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

“Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts were unnoticed.”

So if you haven’t heard, #GivingTuesday is all the rage around the holidays! Recognized globally on December 2nd, this day is dedicated to bringing communities, families, organizations, causes and students together for one common goal: to give.

There are so many ways to give back;  whether it’s done anonymously or intentionally, the warm feeling you’re rewarded with is indescribable. The holidays are a time where you are around people you care about the most and every memory is special and imbeds itself into your psyche. That’s what makes it the best time to start traditions; giving a reoccurring role for all to take on and share with their other communities and families.

Whether you choose to give your time, talent, or money, giving back can be done in any fashion. This day fits perfectly between Thanksgiving and Christmas time. So with one day encouraging you to give thanks, another infecting you with cheeriness and acts of generosity, and the one in between actively encouraging you to give, why not donate the best way possible?

Giving money assures that you’ve done your part, and the recipient, who knows the situation best, has comfort in knowing a need is about to be met. I think that is the most important position to view donating from: the position of the recipient. Maybe the need is food and not clothing? How much? What do people need or want to eat? These questions will circulate through the head of the giver who practices #smartcompassion, a giver who channels the desire to give back in the most effective way.

We’re no strangers to donating and giving back. Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts went unnoticed. I think giving money to a friend or family member and not expecting it in return is considered donating. To me, the act of giving itself is what is appreciated by the donor, the recipient, and everyone else.

If you stop and think about it, money travels faster than goods. Cash can meet any need and fill any gap in most circumstances. I think when giving cash, it feels just as good learning that I was responsible for helping build the infrastructure of the organization that feeds children after school as it would feel being responsible for the food they are eating.

With hash tags like #unselfie and #GivingTuesday, this holiday is an excellent way to help push social impact while also giving millennials a chance to be a part of something emerging before our eyes on the platforms we know and love! Great job New York’s 92nd Street Y.



Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

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“You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis.”

It is Christmas eve and presents are lined beneath my family’s tree. Do you remember that present from a distant relative last year that you opened, cringed and never used? For me it was Barbie dolls when I was sixteen. I appreciate the thought that my relatives put into gifts but sometimes I receive ones I know I will never use. It led me to ask for cash.

Now raise the stakes exponentially. I’m not talking about holiday gift giving but donations given during times of crisis.

In Ebola-stricken areas, healthcare workers may give more than a cringe upon receiving in-kind donations of canned food or used clothing when they are not needed or when those needs have been met. You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis. Just as I would hate to give a gift I know would be discarded, I would never want to donate goods that would impede a relief effort. Instead, I donate cash.

It’s difficult to anticipate the needs of a relative; it’s even more difficult anticipating the needs of those in a humanitarian crisis. Cash is best.

 

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This year’s Christmas tree! (an image from Margot Morris, Program Assistant for The Center for International Disaster Information)

 

There is a place in Miami, Florida, where deadly, hurricane force winds can be felt year-round without the threat of destruction.  In fact, it’s a place that’s being used to help save lives.

It’s called the Wall of Wind, a cutting-edge lab at Florida International University (FIU) that can simulate hurricane conditions using 12 giant fans, stacked two high, capable of generating winds with speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour, packing the punch of a Category Five storm.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is working with FIU to harness these hurricane force winds to test the strength and design of transitional shelters.  Transitional shelters are not tents, but they’re not quite houses, either.  They are a mix of the two, constructed using new and salvaged building materials to safely house people who’ve been hit hard by disasters until they secure a permanent home.

Hurricanes can be catastrophic, uprooting communities, taking out entire coastlines, and killing thousands of people in the process.  Flying debris—often from pieces of roofs and homes—contributes to being one of the most deadly and destructive side effects of these storms.

This is why it’s crucial that transitional shelters are strong enough to withstand nature’s worst, and that is where the Wall of Wind comes into play.  Take a look at the video, and see for yourself if a transitional shelter constructed with USAID-identified best practices could really stand up to a hurricane.

USAID built temporary shelters in Chile

USAID built temporary shelters in Chile, using a combination of durable plastic sheeting and wood boards, to meet humanitarian needs in 2010. Photo Credit: USAID

The transitional shelter was blasted by wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour—well in excess of a Category One hurricane—and remained standing.  USAID’s work with the Wall of Wind not only helps improve the quality of emergency shelters, it can also have real impact on the way future homes and businesses are built in hurricane-prone areas.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the official forecast for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Top forecasters are anticipating a busy 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with the National Hurricane Center on May 23 predicting that 13 to 20 named storms will develop this year, with 7 to 11 of the systems expected to become hurricanes.

Plastic sheeting provided by USAID gives much needed shelter to a family in Nicaragua following a destructive hurricane in 2007.

Plastic sheeting provided by USAID gives much needed shelter to a family in Nicaragua following a destructive hurricane in 2007. Photo Credit: Alejandro Torres/USAID

No matter how accurate the forecast turns out to be, Hurricane Sandy taught us that it only takes one major storm to kill more than 70 people in this country, injure hundreds of others, and inflict billions of dollars in damages.  If one hurricane could do so much damage the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

USAID is prepared to meet the demands of an active hurricane season.  All year, experts with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) have been working closely with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure emergency and evacuation plans are in place.  USAID has emergency stockpiles in Miami, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, shelter materials, and water purification equipment. We have the ability to charter planes in eight different countries to deliver these life-saving items quickly to countries hit hard by hurricanes.  When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff and relief supplies to provide immediate assistance.

But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people.  In addition to the 25 disaster experts USAID/OFDA has in the region, there are also about 350 consultants in 28 countries who can immediately jump into the action when a hurricane makes landfall. These consultants live in the region, so they know the country, culture and local officials and can quickly report the conditions on the ground and help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

USAID airlifted emergency relief supplies to the Bahamas when Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011.

USAID airlifted emergency relief supplies to the Bahamas when Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011. Photo Credit: USAID

“They are our eyes and ears, and they allow USAID to be fast, aggressive and robust in a disaster response,” said Tim Callaghan, USAID/OFDA’s Principal Regional Advisor in Latin America and the Caribbean.  “They work to save lives and alleviate suffering.”

All this week, we will be highlighting what USAID and its partners are doing in preparation for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, from protecting people from deadly flash floods to teaching children in Jamaica to become the next generation of disaster experts.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the official forecast for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.