collecting money for disasters is a topic guaranteed to generate debate. This
is especially true today in the aftermath of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
How aid agencies follow-through after collecting money for disasters is a topic guaranteed to generate debate. This is especially true today in the aftermath of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. This New York Times article presents a brief overview of the various perspectives on this debate.
Aid agencies that don’t follow through with initial commitments are probably few. Most work under extremely difficult conditions and do a commendable job. There are many obstacles placed before them, not the least of which is the fact that disasters loom larger in those regions of the world that are lacking in infrastructure, training and resources. They disproportionately affect places where poorly constructed buildings are more likely to collapse, for example. A host of other factors expose the poor to conditions that can become devastating. The same conditions might cause damage in other parts of the world but not total destruction.
There are also problems that are seldom discussed openly, such as corruption. I’ve seen circumstances in which it was necessary to negotiate through a maze of official requirements that benefit those in positions of authority in order to get aid to those in need. Aid agencies are in countries as guests of the host government and the relationship between the agencies and the government is often complex and tenuous.
So, generally, I’m more sympathetic than critical of this challenging effort to ease suffering. On another note, however, I’m less generous. I’ve seen a few agencies that were better at marketing disaster response than in delivering disaster response. And I’ve seen well-meaning intentions result in the delivery of aid that was determined more by the desires of the donor than by the needs on the ground. This creates problems of storage and delivery that make a bad situation worse.
But the bottom line is this: if, as this article points out, you make promises and collect money from donors to build houses and don’t build houses you’d better have a good reason and explain it in a timely, honest manner. In this age of media scrutiny, trust is difficult to gain and once lost very difficult to restore.