How not to help Haiyan’s victims

Don't send stuff, and make sure you know whom you're giving your money to

Topics: Typhoon Haiyan, disaster relief, Natural Disasters, charities, ,

In the wake of a terrible disaster that’s left hundreds of thousands in the Philippines in need of basic necessities, it can be tempting to throw the kitchen sink at the problem. Don’t.

There’s only one reliable way to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan, the Associated Press reports:

“It absolutely should be money,” says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, a clearinghouse and research group on the social aspects and impacts of disasters around the world. “Whether it’s the U.S. or abroad, one thing that typically happens after a major disaster is people want to donate stuff. This creates enormous logistical problems … and people receiving donations they could never conceivably use, like winter coats sent to people in the Caribbean.”

When disaster aid isn’t properly thought out, “you can end up undermining the local economy,” Tierney adds. “Once you ship building materials halfway around the world, it turns out you’ve ruined the market” for those in the area. “If you want to see economic recovery, you don’t want to send so many supplies that you create a situation where people can’t survive in a business sense.”

Similarly, flying over to help rebuild, while noble, isn’t necessarily the most effective way to make a difference. Chris Palusky, of World Vision, spoke of the second-wave humanitarian disaster that occurred after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka:

One group put up tin shacks, while another constructed nice homes, creating a deep sense of inequality, says Palusky, director of the group’s humanitarian and emergency affairs. In another instance, homes were built that were not up to code and were on a property line, creating disputes among families. They eventually were torn down — illustrating the need, Palusky says, for strict standards and the importance of coordinating with local governments.

These “mom and pop” charities, he says, “go into the field with the best intentions, but sometimes the best intentions are the road to hell.”

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A long list of organizations are working to provide typhoon relief and would be happy to accept your money. A number of scam artists are also taking donations. The AP recommends using Charity Navigator to find vetted groups with the experience to know what they’re doing.

And of course, the easiest way to help is just a text message away. From the U.S., you can send $10 to a number of groups organizing relief efforts: Text the word AID to 80108 to give  to the mGive Foundation, coordinated through the State Department, and to 27722 for the World Food Program. Text REBUILD to 25383 to direct the money to the International Rescue Committee, and TYPHOON to 80888 to give to the Salvation Army.

Lindsay Abrams
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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