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Why we say no: cash versus donated goods in an emergency

World Vision
27 March 2015 by Matt Morris
Why we say no: cash versus donated goods in an emergency

World Vision staff distribute relief supplies after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.

It’s a powerful thing to see that the first response for so many people in a global emergency – like Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu – is to reach out and give whatever they can. I’m in a position at World Vision where I see people approach us to offer in-kind donations in the aftermath – books, clothing, food, shelter. These are all offered by people who are trying to make a difference for the people that really need it.

World Vision will review these offers, but like other overseas aid agencies, we rarely accept them for emergencies. It can be surprising or upsetting for people to have these offers declined, but it’s something that we have to do in almost every instance.

We want to take the time to explain why – and why donating money makes a far bigger impact in a much quicker time frame.

1. Emergency relief goods must meet international standards.

Decades of experience have led to the creation of international standards for emergency relief supplies, and we solely deliver goods to affected communities that meet those standards. This helps ensure the goods are safe and can most effectively meet the immediate needs of those impacted by a humanitarian emergency. Responding agencies like World Vision must adhere to these standards.

2. Emergency relief goods must be relevant and culturally appropriate.

We need to ensure that emergency relief goods not only meet international standards, but are also relevant and culturally appropriate for the context. World Vision strives to respect and affirm the dignity of the communities that it serves, so it is important to ensure that we take into account local needs, customs and preferences when planning what the most appropriate relief goods to distribute in our programs are.

3. It’s often more expensive to transport donated goods from Australia than to procure locally or in the region.

Even if a resource is donated, there are large costs associated with getting it to where it’s needed. Typically if an emergency is severe enough to require supplies to be rapidly sent to the area, transport lines may be disrupted and freight costs skyrocket. The cost of collecting, sorting and storing ad-hoc donated goods is added to this, and things get very expensive very quickly.

It’s usually far more cost effective to procure and transport relief supplies locally, and it helps the economy recover. Where this isn’t possible, it’s better for cost and for speed to procure and transport relief supplies from markets within the region.

4. The bulk of our relief supplies are ready in advance.

World Vision Australia operates a joint warehouse with other agencies and the Australian government to ensure supplies are ready to respond to disasters in our region. The supplies in that warehouse meet the standards for use in a relief effort, and are ready to be flown to where they’re needed within hours.

Part of my job is getting in touch with people who have offered donated goods in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam and letting them know that we can’t accept. It’s never an easy conversation to have, but the key point is that financial donations enable us to get relief there faster, ensure it’s at the right standard to meet an individual or family’s needs, and have a wider impact through working with other organisations and governments.

Rather than having to hope the right goods get offered, cash donations allow us to listen to what the people and government are telling us they need, and get it to them as soon as possible.

We don’t say no because we want to – it’s not a great feeling telling someone who’s genuinely, sincerely trying to help that we’re not able to transport their goods. We don’t say it because we’re unappreciative or unwilling – we do it because decades of experience have shown us that the unintended consequences of transporting donated goods can far outweigh any intended benefits. In other situations, donated goods can change lives, but in an emergency, cash donations do far more good.

Matt Morris Matt Morris

Matt is the Project Officer for World Vision Australia's Program Resources team.

 

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