The UAE showed how much it cared yesterday as the south Asia tidal wave death toll surpassed 77,000. More than ten tonnes of clothes, blankets, tents, milk powder, biscuits and fresh water were donated at Dubai Aid City's Sheikh Zayed road collection point alone. Many children, some as young as five years old gave their own toys and blankets.
At Wafi City, within a few hours of a collection tent being set up by three young volunteers outside Planet Hollywood restaurant, more than 100 people had given including one textile factory owner who donated 20 boxes of clothing.
Pizza Express Restaurants in Dubai and Sharjah pledged today's entire takings, which Managing Director Anan Radia hopes will raise at least dhs35,000 for the suffering in India, Indonesia, Thailand and nine other nations whose coastlines were slammed by tsunamis on Sunday night. (The full article is here.)
Strange donations still welcome
The UAE drive to collect relief items and money had a lighter side. At the Wafi City collection point, which is associated with the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment, one man donated a very trendy pair of Puma running shoes and another donated a designer suit. One man according to volunteers at Wafi's tent outside Planet Hollywood, brought five bags full of women’s designer clothes.
He had recently divorced his wife and did not want her to have them. "I paid for them, so they are mine," the man said according to volunteer Georges, who together with Roya and Nilu set up the campaign. (This article is here.)
From 7DAYS, a free local paper. www.7days.ae
Here's a helpful article from Gulf News by Sarah Dawson, a specialist who has wide experience of working with the UN and NGOs dealing with disasters:
URGENT APPEAL FOR WELL-PLANNED AND COORDINATED AID RESPONSE
by Sarah Dawson
Please spare a moment to read this article. We hope that it will help you to channel your generous and kind support as effectively as possible.
Those with many years of experience argue that in the immediate aftermath of disaster cash channeled through major international relief agencies like the United Nations, Red Crescent and Non-governmental organizations, and not donated aid, is usually the best form of assistance. Many agencies refuse to accept donated aid for a plethora of reasons outlined below.
It is absolutely essential that in order to meet all needs, and to reach all those who are vulnerable, that support is well-coordinated, systematic, equal and comprehensive. Please imagine the situation on the ground when individual donated aid arrives. The port has been damaged, rail lines, the airport and roads too. There may be few trucks locally, warehouses will have been damaged, and hospitals and clinics may have been damaged. In short infrastructure is in a mess. This makes even the delivery and initial storage of individual donations extremely difficult. Ships may have to wait days before they can dock and unload. Only so many aircraft can land and be unloaded each day at the airport.
There are only so many trucks to move the aid around, only so much fuel etc. Who will pay for the unloading, the fuel for distribution, warehousing costs? Those on the ground often have no idea what is arriving or when and where will it be sent. Will some areas receive disproportionate assistance, others none?
A pre-organized team needs to meet the flight or ship with trucks to take goods to a secure, dry, clean warehouse. Co-ordination is more efficient, effective and saves money. This is far easier when international relief agencies have the cash to enable a coordinated well-planned response.
Professional relief agencies prefer, where possible, to receive cash that can be used to purchase relief items locally wherever possible. This not only gives a boost to the local economy when it desperately needs it, but also helps ensure that aid is culturally appropriate.
It also means that overheads are kept low as logistics costs are usually minimized by local procurement. Just imagine if Sri Lanka receives donated aid in the form of tea and clothing then local markets which produce these goods will be decimated. This at the very moment where the economy needs all the help it can get to aid recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Once the aid has arrived it has to be distributed. This has to be coordinated. If not then chaos will ensue - risk of injury to those clamoring for help, risk that those not in need will benefit at the expense of the weakest, danger the aid will be misappropriated, sold on the black market at inflated prices, or that those who can’t run as fast or climb as high on to the truck will miss out.
Established agencies will have distribution mechanisms in place if they already work in the region or will know quickly how to set them up. Economies of scale will mean they can negotiate good logistics rates. In crisis situations many small groups often waste vast resources on just trying to deliver the donations they have collected. Aid has to be given equitably. Communities have to be helped according to well-planned needs assessments - if one community or family receives a kilo of rice another a pack of biscuits there will be riots. Pregnant women, children and the elderly have special needs. Imagine when uncoordinated boxes of any manner of foodstuffs etc arrive for distribution.
Maybe they have passed their expiry date, maybe they are infested with weevils, the boxes can contain foodstuffs unfamiliar to the local community meaning they won’t know how to cook it, have no pots, no fuel either. Imagine then the difference when an aircraft/boat/truck arrives laden with well considered essential foodstuffs; e.g. rice, oil, tinned fish, sugar and salt. A family ration pack is quickly assembled and distributed; every family in every community receives the same, along with a cooking pot, utensils, fuel etc. People often worry that babies will need formula and feeding bottles. In fact it is this well intended donation that often contributes to many more child deaths. A feeding bottle cannot be easily sterilized in an emergency situation, there may not be clean water to mix up the formula, and mothers may not understand how to make up the formula, instructions on the packet are usually in an unrecognizable language.
Breast-feeding is far better for the baby, we need to encourage this and support mothers. If absolutely essential to feed a baby by another means, a small bowl and spoon will save untold lives over the use of bottles. International relief agencies have learnt lessons like this from experience.
Hygiene items are often desperately needed. Generous donors collect soaps; shower gels, washing powders etc. But these mixed donations are difficult to pack efficiently and are expensive. When they arrive they will be used very quickly; the plastic containers though will provide long term extra problems for waste disposal.
The soap we use at home is usually not designed to last long and bought from a supermarket it costs far more than its original production cost. Imagine then instead thousands of bars of unrefined soap unpackaged and designed for multiple use sold at cost or donated from one supplier. It can be used to wash bodies, clothes, and cooking items. Easily transported and distributed.
Finally, many people will recognize the need for essential medicines and drugs after an emergency. Clinics, hospitals, drug companies will donate all manner of drugs. Often the drugs sent will be close to expiry, will be inappropriate for local needs, people on the ground will be unsure of their quality, containers may be unsealed and they can’t be sure that they have not been tampered with, they may have been sitting in warehouses at high temperatures their efficacy compromised, perhaps regional health providers will not recognize drug names.
Compare this then to a health kit designed by an international relief agency like Medecins sans Frontieres specifically for use in a disaster situation, it will contain essential drugs for a specific population size, labeled under their generic names so they are recognizable to everyone, sourced in bulk therefore more cheaply, checked for quality and a long life. A team is organized to deliver help safely.
Following needs assessments and distribution another major aspect of international relief agency responses is monitoring and evaluation to make sure that the communities are receiving what they need in a timely manner and that future needs are being coordinated in advance.
Although basic items of clothing, medicines etc maybe needed in many disaster situations communities quickly become saturated with the same goods because of uncoordinated and unplanned donations. Maximizing indigenous coping mechanisms in the long term, through well planned interventions such as donating materials to repair fishing nets or boats will have greater impact on the lives of vulnerable people. Impregnated mosquito nets and shovels will likely have a far greater impact on good health outcomes in the long term than boxes of expired drugs for tertiary health care.
This is just a brief and simplified insight into some of the problems faced on the ground. The generous sentiment with which people reach out to help others through donated aid is not to be belittled in anyway. The choice to donate fiscally or materially is individual one and although many agencies will not accept donated aid we know that if people do want to give in this way, a few extra moments spent preparing donated aid can help enormously.
A FEW TIPS FOR GATHERING DONATED AID
ASK PEOPLE TO GIVE SPECIFIC ITEMS 1KG BAG RICE, 1KG BAG SUGAR, 1 LITRE CAN OF OIL ETC. MAKE SURE ITEMS ARE NON PERISHABLE OR WITH A LONG SHELF LIFE.
ASK PEOPLE TO BUY A SPECIFIC SIZE BLANKET, TOWEL OR BUCKET ETC. THESE WILL BE EASIER TO PACK AND EASIER TO DISTRIBUTE FAIRLY.
PACK SIMILAR FOOD STUFFS TOGETHER AND SIMILAR CLOTHING ITEMS TOGETHER.
LABEL ALL BOXES CLEARLY. PREPARE FAMILY KITS WITH FOOD STUFFS, HYGIENE ITEMS AND PRACTICAL ITEMS LIKE A HAMMER OR NAILS.
IF POSSIBLE FIND OUT HOW BOXES WILL BE UNLOADED IF UNLOADED BY FORKLIFTS, FIND OUT THE SIZE. IF YOU CAN PALETTISE BOXES, UNLOADING WILL BE MUCH QUICKER.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. PLAIN, PRACTICAL, CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE GOOD QUALITY ITEMS.
MOST IMPORTANTLY ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE PLANNED HOW THE GOODS WILL BE STORED AND DISTRIBUTED TO THOSE IN NEED ONCE THEY ARRIVE.
We hope this information will help you in organizing your response so that it achieves the greatest impact. Please bear in mind that cash donations will give established experienced agencies the flexibility to work most effectively and efficiently to relieve the suffering of victims of crisis.