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Blindly donating to relief organizations may not benefit target populations

by Nicole Chen, Features Editor

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In light of recent global natural disasters like the northern California wildfires and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, awareness of how resources are being utilized and organization-to-public transparency is key.

Historically, relief organizations have played a significant role in bettering the lives of those affected by natural disasters both nationally and globally, mobilizing the public through monetary donations. However, a lack of communication and accountability between these organizations and the public means that  organizations that seem trustworthy may not actually be.

During the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 that killed approximately 200,000 civilians, the American Red Cross (ARC) raised $488 million in donations towards Haiti relief efforts.

President and CEO of the ARC Gail McGovern stated that the organization was “building infrastructure for the very first time,” rather than reconstructing homes that had been destroyed in the quake.

When NPR and ProPublica followed up on the ARC’s efforts in Haiti in 2015, their investigations concluded that ARC’s results were not as promising as they had initially seemed. In the five-year time period, the ARC built six permanent homes.

The money, ARC said on their website and press releases, went towards helping 4.5 million Haitians get “back on their feet.” However, Jean-Max Bellerive, who was prime minister of Haiti until 2011, noted that the population affected by the earthquake did not even reach that many during the time of the quake.

Part of ARC’s attempt to fulfill its mission also included the addition of so-called “transitional shelters,” temporary homes that Haitians were housed in until permanent housing was finished. Composed of weak and flimsy material, Haitians noticed the disintegration of these homes within three to five years of being built.

Regardless of where the almost $500 million went, it seems unacceptable that the ARC specifically stated their mission of building an abundance of new homes and resulted in only six, especially with the outpouring of money in the five-year period.

Regardless, the ARC has repeatedly celebrated their success in Haiti to the public, and it remains the charity of choice for many.

The ARC scandal in Haiti raises doubts and concerns regarding humanitarian organizations when put in context of the current state of various countries in dire need of resources due to natural disasters.

Not to say that all philanthropic efforts, or the ARC’s role in Haiti for a matter of fact, are potentially ineffective. The ARC’s aid to Haitian citizens did undoubtedly better the living conditions to some degree; however, the problem simply lay in the fact that the ARC used their resources in ways that the public was unaware of.

The worst move we can make as individuals willing to provide aid is to blindly trust and donate to any disaster relief organization just because of its prevalence and popularity.

To aid those affected by Hurricane Maria, donate to trusted organizations like UNICEF, United for Puerto Rico and Save the Children.

Collectively, our goal in bettering the lives of those in areas struck by disasters can only be achieved through helping organizations that we are certain will allocate our monetary donations and its resources effectively.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on November 16, 2017.

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