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Disaster Relief for Ecuador: Cash Donations Recommended


Disaster Relief: Cash Donations vs. Donated Goods

When disaster strikes, people often experience compassion for the victims and want to help by donating food, water, supplies, and clothing to the affected area. The majority of international aid organizations soon become overwhelmed by the amount of goods donated and often spend more time sorting and organizing the donated goods than assisting the victims. The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has caused massive devastation and aid organizations are asking people to make cash donations instead.

Donated Goods Can Become a Second Disaster

Consider the 2004 tsunami that decimated Banda Aceh. Aid organizations and volunteers did not have time to sort through the overwhelming amount of donated clothing, so it quickly became the "second disaster."  The majority of the clothing was left to rot in a massive pile on the beach and eventually had to be burned.

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, people felt such compassion for the children involved that donations of stuffed animals to the Newton, CT area exceeded 60,000. In the end, majority of the donations were turned away, simply because they were not needed.

Finding a Source for Guidance

The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), part of the United States Agency for International Development Office of U. S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), was developed to help guide and inform the public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government, businesses, and organizations "about the most effective ways to support international disaster relief and recovery."

Cash Donations Can Have Multiple, Stimulating Benefits

USAID CIDI asks that anyone wishing to assist or donate for a crisis, such as the recent earthquake in Ecuador donate cash to a reputable charity.  Years of experience in providing relief for disaster victims has shown that cash donations provide multiple and far reaching benefits above material goods donations.

Some of the benefits of cash donations include:

  • Cash donations do not require shipping, saving money on shipping costs.
  • Cash donations do not incur delays.
  • No custom fees are incurred for cash donations.
  • Cash donations avoid situations where volunteers must to sort and manage unwieldy amounts of donated materials, many of which are unneeded, expired, or inappropriate.
  • Donations of cash can stimulate local economies when aid organizations purchase needed items in or near the communities affected by the disaster - generating cash flow and maintaining jobs in the stricken area.
  • Cash donations do not take up space that can be used for lifesaving equipment, including medical supplies and medicines.

Finding the Right Charity to Donate to

When in doubt about which organization to donate cash to, USAID CIDI offers several websites where detailed financial information can be found on registered charities. Some of the sites even list current or ongoing issues with the charity so the public is aware of anything that might impact their giving.  A few of the organizations include Give Well, Charity Watch, and Charity Navigator.

The USAI CIDI website also offers interactive tools that help people understand the cost of donating a single item, such as a pair of jeans. For example, a $20 pair of jeans, with shipping costs included to Honduras, costs a whopping $164.98! The site then compares what $164.98 dollars could provide if given in cash: 16,498 people would receive 2 liters of clean drinking water for a day.

Overall, CIDI asks that anyone looking to donate to victims of natural or other disasters to simply give cash to a reputable charity organization. It may not seem like much, but its affects can be far reaching.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.