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How to help out during a disaster

VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels

Often in the wake of a disaster (especially when it’s a place we’ve visited and feel an affinity toward), we want to hop on a plane and help out. Chic Savvy Travels talks to Laura Blank, a spokesperson for World Vision’s News Bureau in the U.S., about how to help — and how sometimes generous intentions may, in fact, be counterproductive.

World Vision's Laura Blank at the Pegiville Burtesou IDP Camp in Haiti.

Blank, currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, works with deploys to major global disasters, including the Haiti earthquake and Myanmar cyclone, to provide emergency communications support. Prior to joining World Vision in 2007, she worked at CNN and NY1 News.

Chic Savvy: What logistics, skills and experience are needed to mount a relief effort following a disaster?

Laura Blank: The days and weeks following a major natural disaster often bring an immediate outpouring of generosity from the public and a swell of interest from journalists to cover the story. A common desire is to do more than donate funds — well-intended people from all walks of life want to become involved, doing everything from organizing a local food or clothing drive, to actually traveling to the disaster site in hopes of providing additional on-the-ground assistance.

In a disaster, the best people to help on the ground are those with appropriate skills and training for disaster response, those who understand the language and the context of the particular disaster, and those who have the professional training and experience to work in a disaster setting.

Chic Savvy: People often want to do more than donate money. How can these generous intentions be counter-productive?

Laura Blank: While motivated by generous intentions, the efforts most often are counter-productive. Aid agencies have learned that donated food and clothing can clog up the supply line, and usually costs more to sort and ship than it is worth. And while volunteers with the needed professional skills, language and experience can help save lives, local relief staff often has enough work to do without having to provide logistics, translation, and even care for untrained and unprepared volunteers.

In addition, basic supplies like food, water and shelter are limited for humanitarian aid workers following a disaster. Untrained volunteers with little practical experience to offer can strain an already overburdened system and unintentionally divert resources from those who are able to best help the survivors.

Chic Savvy: What is the best way to help?

The town of Minamisanriku, Japan, was severely hit by the tsunami. Photo Credit: World Vision

Laura Blank: It is natural to want to rush to help when we see families and children in need around the world. We feel the same way, and that’s why we want to help people understand that the very best way to help those in need is through financial gifts.

Cash donations can be used immediately to purchase critically needed items — either in the affected country (thereby helping its economy at a time of great need) or in nearby countries. Relief organizations have established logistic channels that will get the aid to the country in the most efficient way possible, through customs, and to those who need it most, while avoiding duplication.

Take the time to research an organization you believe in — Charity Navigator and GuideStar are great resources — and then support them in their work. Financial gifts allow these professional humanitarian aid organizations to respond as quickly as possible to the most urgent needs on the ground.

Chic Savvy: How are relief organizations held accountable for the donations they receive?

Laura Blank: Accountability is a responsibility and one that professional humanitarian agencies take seriously. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Humanitarian Code of Conduct, aid agencies are accountable to “both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.”

Over the past several years, World Vision has strengthened its global policies and practices to ensure greater accountability, including a robust internal “whistleblower” program as well as a “community of practice” to share lessons learned. In addition, World Vision provides things like executive salaries, general income and outflow information, annual reports and overhead rates to the general public. All of these things can be accessed on our website.

Copyright @ 2011 Chic Savvy Travels

Date Added: April 1, 2011 | Comments (0)

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