Why “Cash is Best” for International Disaster Relief

When natural disasters strike around the world, Americans are known for their generosity and desire to help those impacted. 63 percent of Americans surveyed in a Harris Interactive poll said they had donated to disaster relief efforts in the last five years. Sometimes, those donations include monetary donations, but most times, people give material goods, like bottled water, canned food or clothing.

While material donations are well-intentioned, they often create new challenges, which can take away valuable time and resources from recovery efforts on the ground. Cash or monetary donations, by contrast, provides much more flexibility to meet short- and long-term needs and actually has a greater impact for reasons that may not be immediately obvious.

Cash is Best

Cash Donations Provide the Best Bang for the Buck

Shipping physical items around the world can be expensive, clog runways used for relief flights, and take a long time to arrive. For example, sending bottles of water overseas after a disaster may seem like a good idea but it’s not the most efficient or effective way to help. The cost of shipping 100,000 liters of bottled water overseas costs about $350,000, while the cost of in-country water purification systems can provide about the same amount of water for just $300. That’s a huge difference. It is also important to remember that food and drinking water can almost always be purchased locally, even following a disaster.

In addition, in an emergency when timing is critical, organizations can process monetary gifts quickly and deliver exactly what survivors need.

Aid Groups Can Purchase Culturally Appropriate Supplies

Donated clothing can be difficult and expensive to transport – but that’s not the reason that 38 countries around the world have banned the importation of used clothing. Whether it’s clothing that’s inappropriate for the climate of the affected area – such as winter coats in a tropical climate – or clothing that might be culturally inappropriate in some regions, these are some of the reasons why clothing donations might not be as helpful as some might think.

The same goes for food. Different cultural and religious practices as well as dietary restrictions around the world mean that although well-intentioned, donated food often goes to waste. Additionally, food that requires complicated prep work or quickly goes bad in different climates can create other problems.

Cash is Best

Material Donations Can Disrupt and Potentially Harm the Local Economy

An influx of material donations can also have a negative impact on local economies, leaving industries unable to grow or provide local jobs. If millions of pounds of food or clothing are delivered to an area, consider the financial impact that might have on local farmers or fabric makers trying to sell their goods. Monetary donations not only allow people to buy locally produced goods but also injects financial support into local economies when people need it most.

In addition, material goods that are unusable or not needed create trash, which can lead to additional cleanup costs later and leave a lasting environmental impact. Cash donations avoid this unnecessary waste and empower people to make cheaper and more ecologically sound purchases.

Donating Money Allows for Maximum Flexibility

After a natural disaster, the needs on the ground are constantly changing. For example, an aid group may need medical supplies in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. A week or two later, they may require water purifying supplies and food. Reputable organizations working on the ground know what the needs are and are the best suited to make those decisions.

Donating cash also helps keep logistical pipelines open. The influx of unrequested goods can clog up airports, seaports, and unloading zones, making it harder for the needed supplies to get to affected communities.

Cash is Best

Help Us Share Why Cash is Best

Our nationwide, annual PSAid contest encourages college students to design and produce static image, digital, or video public service announcements (PSAs) that will help us spread the “cash is best” message. The winning PSAs have run in media outlets across the country, including TV stations and print publications in more than 150 media markets. And this year winning PSAs will also air on streaming services like Roku, Apple TV, Disney+, and more. It’s a great opportunity for students looking to add to their portfolios and have their work seen by potentially millions of people, all while making a real difference by helping our organization share how cash donations streamline response efforts after international natural disasters.

If you are a college professor interested in offering this opportunity to your students or incorporating this contest into your curriculum, or if you are a current college student looking to enter work in this year’s competition, please visit psaid.org.

For more information about how cash donations have provided relief after international disasters, please visit cidi.org.