How to Help the Philippines
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) People in the Philippines need your money.
On November 8 Super Typhoon Haiyan made land in the Philippines. One of the worst storms ever recorded, Haiyan has left over 10,000 people dead and 9 million displaced, with governments and aid organizations only beginning to understand the true scope of the damage.
A lot of people are stranded without water, power or shelter and need your help. The best way to reach out to them is with cash. It's tacky to say it, like registering for a wedding with American Express, but that doesn't make it any less true. In the wake of a disaster Americans are some of the generous people on the planet. Following events such as the Fukushima meltdown and the Haitian earthquake our people become nothing less than extraordinary in their drive to help.
Unfortunately, we follow through on that by sending things. People root through their attics for unused articles of clothing and advertise food drives to gather up dried goods that they can ship overseas. With their hearts in the right places, their minds (and their wallets) are not, because these donations often have nothing to do with what victims actually need.
Several years ago I helped to run a small NGO in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had this problem all the time: well intentioned people who didn't want to just cut a check because it feels impersonal. It also drove us up the wall, because we often ended up inundated with offers for things we simply didn't need.
Part of the reason for this is efficiency. It's much easier for most NGO's to purchase their own goods than to inspect, prepare and distribute donated ones. Which is easier, sending someone $20 to buy a new T-shirt, or picking one out in the right size, packaging and mailing it? The act of actually giving the T-shirt makes us feel better, but for an aid worker, that comes at the cost of time and energy.
If that worker has the money to quickly order 200 T-shirts, the job can just get done. Sorting through hundreds of hand-me-downs, though, is a much bigger task. What sizes are they? In what condition? Do they need to be washed first, do they contain any lice? A donated T-shirt, ironically, can make it harder for people to get new clothing, or just as often might end up tossed out altogether in a desperate bid to save time.
It's also about allocation of resources. Sitting here in Chicago, I have absolutely no idea what the citizens of Tacloban need or how much of it. They might have a shortage of food or a quirk of fate might have let piles of canned goods survive the storm. Maybe what they really need are blankets or emergency shelters, perhaps malaria has broken out from pools of stagnant water left in the aftermath. The people who know what's needed are the people and the workers on the ground.