A Quick Guide for Effective Donations

All kinds of disasters have become increasingly destructive in Latin America, the Caribbean and in other developing regions of the world. Thanks to modern communications, news of these tragedies reaches the international community in minutes, and in some cases, aid is mobilized in a matter of hours. This outpouring of assistance can benefit a disaster-striken country if it meets real needs. However, it can just as quickly become a burden when the assistance has not been requested or donor institutions or individuals have misperceptions of what the needs are.

Post-disaster assistance will always be more effective if some basic principles are kept in mind, so that the process will favor, not delay, a quick response and recovery for the affected population.

Because of the competition for dwindling resources at national and global levels, it is important that governments, non-governmental agencies and institutions consider, before the next major disaster strikes, the most effective form of international humanitarian assistance. We hope that the following recommendations will assist donors and recipients to make decisions that will provide the greatest long-term benefits for countries affected by natural or complex disasters.

A positive response

Consider that every disaster is unique and the effect it has on health depends on the degree of development in the affected country.

Right checkConsider that the objective of a good donation is that it responds to real needs, as expressed by the recipient.

Right check The affected country should also inform donors of what is not needed or wanted. This is just as important as specifying what is needed.

Right check Emergency assistance should complement, not duplicate, steps taken by the affected country.

Right check Whenever possible, cash donations are preferable. This enables goods and services to be purchased locally and saves time and logistical resources associated with storage and transportation.

Right check Help disaster-affected populations during preparedness, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Successful assistance programs take into account that international attention wanes as needs and shortages become more pressing.

Right check There should always be a close communication between donors and recipients, communication will be much more effective if it exists before the emergency.

Right check Some special materials need precise specifications. When donating used medical equipment, new equipment, tents, and vaccines, it is necessary to obtain and to provide detailed documentation for these items.

Right check Become familiar with and use a humanitarian supply management system (such as SUMA), which promotes transparency and sound management of donations.

Not recommended

Do not overreact to media reports for urgently needed international assistance. Wait for the complete picture and formal requests to be issued.

Wrong check Donors should not compete with each other. The quality and appropriateness of the aid is more important than its size, its monetary value and/or the speed with which the donations arrive.

Wrong check Don't promote the shipment of used items (clothes, shoes, etc.), food, medicines, blood and blood derivatives, medical or paramedical personnel, medical equipment or field hospitals.

Wrong check Never donate medicines that have expired or are about to expire.

Wrong check When it comes to measuring the quality of donation, double standards shouldn't exist. If the product is unacceptable in the donor country, it is also unacceptable as a donation.