Mo Money Mo Disaster Problems?

Just over a week ago, a 6.0 earthquake hit Italy. The people over at SourceFed (a new YouTube site I enjoy greatly) covered it as part of their daily video rundown of current events.

The SourceFed folks are, in a word, awesome. Their version of the news is always fun, fast, and insightful, and they’re very up front about the fact that they have opinions and biases like anyone else. I’m a fan.

In their coverage of the earthquake, they talked about the sad loss of historical structures and the people who were displaced. They talked about the ongoing efforts of the Italian government to shelter those people.

Then, the hosts promised viewers to find out where we could send money to help asap.

Hold the phone. What?

Tragic event – check. Natural desire on the part of any red-blooded human being to help – check. Automatic assumption that means sending money to anyone collecting it – nope.

Don’t get me wrong – I know this is common practice. Whenever a tragedy occurs, we start collecting money. Sometimes, it’s exactly the right thing to do. But it’s not always the right thing, and it’s rarely as simple as just finding somewhere to send it.

The Japan tsunami taught us that there are times when money is not what’s needed. The Japanese government had their hands full with an emergency response that was fully funded from the get-go, and donor-funded charities clamouring to get in there and ‘help’ only added to the burden.

The Haiti earthquake taught us that even when tragedy happens in a poor country, boatloads of money flowing in through hundreds of agencies don’t improve anything. Having all those well-funded but uncoordinated actors running around trying to ‘fix’ things can lead to bigger problems, and waste the precious money that was given with such wonderful intentions.

So before you send disaster relief money anywhere, ask yourself two things:

  1. Is money the form of help that’s really needed?
  2. Which organization has the best chance of really having an impact with the money?

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