Why Donating Goods As Disaster Relief May Be Negative

As a country, New Zealand is always willing and wanting to help its neighbours during a crisis. It is what we do, and always have. However, our actions have a possibility of causing long-term damage and we must be more aware that our actions do not actually have a negative impact overseas. In this opinion piece I will be discussing how donating goods overseas that have not been directly asked for is undesirable and often unwanted, plus how donating cash is much more beneficial.

In 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston hit Tonga and Fiji creating widespread damage. The category five cyclone caused over 1.4 billion USD of damage. In our response to this situation New Zealander’s donated the goods we did not need anymore – which lead to over 130 shipping containers of goods and 8000 pieces of loose cargo (sourced from stuff.nz, 2016). It was sent to our pacific neighbours to aid in relief, but most of it was just people cleaning out their homes and donating the goods thinking it could be used.

Some of the outrageous Items received included; high heels and skiing gear, which were donated in response to people who were suffering from cyclones… in the middle of the pacific. Also, over half of the food goods donated were required to be dumped due to being off or unsafe to give to people in need. People often see this as an opportunity to ‘spring clean’ their homes and get rid of items that they no longer need. They expect people in disasters to accept everything and anything with open hands because they have lost ‘everything’ and ‘should be grateful’. But in reality, they are simply just not needed.

This sort of inappropriate donating slowed the disaster response as scores of teams had to go through the shipping containers sorting the goods – time which could have been spent actually helping. The cost of transporting these goods from the country that donated to country in need and then sending them across that country is unfathomable and almost always costs more than the actual goods themselves. According to Ian McInnes in 2015, ‘cash is the greatest help in a disaster’. Donations to agencies with high reputations and the ability to use the resources the most efficiently and effectively is the best way to aid, especially New Zealander’s pacific neighbours during the cyclone season. Therefore, donating cash allows communities and the organizations to establish their own primary needs, and to actually have the ability to meet these needs to directly help communities.

Donating directly to charities is the most valuable way to help. During the 2019 Measles epidemic in Samoa the charities and community organizations working on the ground required direct donations to start vaccinations, yet we’re receiving crockpots and rice cookers. These charities and organizations are the people that know what the most immediate need is – but they can only deliver their expert assistance if their work is adequately funded (stuff.2019, Aaron Davy).

If we as New Zealanders know that sending money is more beneficial than physical goods, then why do we still continue to send goods? And what is the underlying reason for this? We still donate goods because the satisfaction people receive from sending over physical goods is greater than donating cash as you expect to physically how your good is making a difference in someone else’s life.

People like to know where their money is going, if it is really going to help out people in need or will the charity just use your money for themselves, this should be part of the consideration when deciding which charities to donate to. Something to keep in mind is that to ensure that the most effective and proper direct groundwork is taken place, administrative and organization costs must be present. These expenses are not something to be turned away by, but in fact come hand in hand with the groundwork.

At the end of the day, humanitarian aid organizations and charities are professionals at what they do. Their extensive research is completed by experts in their respective fields and know what they are committing funds to. The majority of humanitarian aid workers have dedicated their career to helping people. So why should we not trust them with our donations? Here are a few organizations and charities that are well established and reputable in giving aid and supporting communities:

  • Save the children
  • Caritas
  • Christian World Service
  • The Family Centre
  • This is a very short list but you can find the complete list on the Council for International Development Website cid.org.nz

All of these charities each focus on different areas of aid and because of this deciding where to donate should come down to what your core values are and what you want your money used for.

New Zealand charities are extensively regulated and audited, especially our international charities that are a part of the Council for International Development. They must verify what they are doing through a code of compliance that is easily accessible in the public domain, including financial statements showing all expenses and donations collected. This means that as New Zealanders we can give our trust to the charity of our choice and know that the donation will be used in the best possible way. Donating direct money is unmatched and does not compare to donating physical goods. Cash can be traded/converted so incredibly quickly into what the communities need, far more rapidly than sorting out shipping containers of goods. If you are wanting to help make a difference this year, don’t let it end up in the rubbish overseas.

Isabella Patrick