Learning From Post Disaster Response Research Paper

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Disaster Donations: A Mixture of Blessings and Problems

Disaster donations: a mixture of blessing and problems

Globally, the number of disasters has grown significantly. This has resulted to substantial economic damage. In response to these disasters, worldwide humanitarian aid has increased. A recent report by Global Humanitarian Assistance indicates that worldwide humanitarian aid has doubled compared to ten years ago. In most cases, donations are in the form of cash grants, but a large portion of the donations is "in-kind," in terms of goods, such as food, tents, blankets, medicine, or services such as volunteering (Larson, Metzger and Cahn, 2006). A modern report from the U.N has reported that almost 17% of all donations are "in-kind."

A large proportion of humanitarian aid operations involve logistics and humanitarian organizations face adverse challenges in this sector. Ever since the 2004 Asian Tsunami disaster, many studies have addressed challenges in humanitarian logistics and many of them result from unsolicited donations. These unsolicited donations, which include inappropriate donations, lead to delays in customs clearance, waste time, money, and occupy the scarce space. For instance, during the 2004 Asian Tsunami, there were many inappropriate piles of donation at Sri Lanka's Colombo International airport. These donations almost blocked other important relief supplies, making the delivering airplane eat away the airports limited fuel supplies. This was in an international scale.

In the domestic level, inappropriate donations pose a challenge for domestic emergency response (Larson, Metzger and Cahn, 2006). For illustration, in the first two weeks after hurricane Katrina (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007), trucks dumped used clothing and household items in relief staging areas, including the shelter parking areas without coordination from the emergency staff. This has posed substantial challenges for the relief workers that they have termed it as "the second disaster." Prior studies have investigated this phenomenon because it is gradually influencing the good intentions behind donations owing to the hindrance and challenges it poses. In most instances, the disasters gather substantial unsolicited donations, which further create second disasters because of challenges in logistics, and smooth running of relief work (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007).

Importance of Donations

In most disasters, donations are in the form of goods and services, and may include both finance, and financial assets. A large proportion of the donations help in the support of domestic disasters, and others go to global relief and development programs. However, in times of disaster the donors contribute large amounts of products in an effort to aid disaster victims. Donations are in the form of food, clothing, and household items, which NGOs take to give the disaster victims. In addition, governments and companies take part in the donations.

In a time of disaster response, the donations, in the form of in-kind donations, can save many lives. This is because the NGOs in the time of response struggle with scarce funds because their money is for specific projects. It takes lots of time to get funds to respond to disasters; therefore, in the response, the in-kind donations play an important role when the NGOs are struggling to get funds. Appropriate in-kind donations in the initial phases of response can help the humanitarian organizations to use their scarce or inadequate funds in helping disaster victims.

However, it is a frustrating undertaking to find appropriate donation, or to entirely avoid the donations, and focus their energy on acquiring supplies for the disaster victims with the limited funds. On the other hand, the humanitarian organizations are growing significantly. This means that there is potential competition, which will make it hard to get funds from companies, and the government. With the competition, the organizations must take the donations from the individual donors. Surprisingly, the companies are also giving in-kind donations, and humanitarian organizations are obliged to take them, and sell them to facilitate the purchase of appropriate donations.

Literature Review

The Second Disaster

Donations help victims in the initial response phase, but the improper donations in the form of food, clothing, or volunteering services pose serious challenges to humanitarian aid efforts. Prior studies on the issue suggest that the challenge is severe, that is why it has another term "the second disaster" in the NGO community (Fessler, 2003). It is a term used by relief staff that now starts managing the large quantities of unsolicited donation after a disaster. In reference to Katrina and Haiti earthquakes, most of the donations qualified as inappropriate donations (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007). Research further states that unsolicited donations are the hardest barrier for effective response. Since 1957, it is not yet possible for relief workers to manage this situation.


Unsolicited in-kind donations pose severe logistics challenges in most humanitarian aid organizations for effective relief activities. This is because the donations often accrue for months on the airport parking, port areas of the victim country because NGOs tend to reject them as they lack important donations from them. For instance, the Tsunami response almost leads to closure of Colombo International Airport. In most disasters, the unsolicited donations serve as barriers to the flow of solicited donations in the early phases of disaster relief by occupying the scarce space available, and consuming limited transportation capacity (Tomassini & Van Wassenhove, 2007).

In global disasters, customs often hold the donated materials because most of them lack appropriate documentation and permits, which many organizations fail to provide. In addition, coordinating with the local customs officials, and international donors, including clearing agents creates additional work for the relief staff. The efforts are unsuccessful because the organizations often find out that the donations are either not appropriate for the response, or they arrive late to be useful. In the local context, inappropriate donations overwhelm relief staff, and humanitarian organizations.

In most instances, donations stay in the open as the staff struggle to acquire storage facilities. The relief staff and logistic staff spend a large amount of time managing the donations, but most of the donations prove useless in the end, hence, wastage of time. Investigators have reported that in the 2004 Asian Tsunami, and the Hurricane Katrina (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007), the Haiti and Japan earthquake, and 2011 Tsunami, around 50-70% of the donation transported and managed by the staff was not useful. These donations consume limited resources of the humanitarian organizations, which further complicate the efforts to respond to the victims of disaster.

Disposal of Unwanted Donations

Inappropriate donations are left out due to the scarcity of warehouses, and shelters. It is complicated to do away with the unwanted donations and attempts to donate to the needy, rather than the victims of disasters, can end up damaging a relief organization's reputation. It is even hard to do away with unwanted donations from corporations. This is because expired medical items will require orderly disposal. In addition, governments impose fee for re-exporting donations (Leitman, 2007), and due to lack of options, humanitarian organizations pay for disposal of the donations. The disposal will pose risks for the organization's reputation, and some may opt to store the donations (Bennett & Gabriel, 2005).

Disaster Cases

In the year 2004, donations for victims of the Asian Tsunami were many to the extent of piling up at Sri Lanka's Colombo International Airport. The nearby warehouses were full, and they blocked other important incoming donations, which made the airplane delivering them to drain the donations at the airport's limited fuel supplies. In addition, during the disaster posed by Hurricane Katrina (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007), there were many inappropriate donations. The same case applies during the disaster of Japan Earthquake and the 2011 Tsunami. After two weeks, many trucks dumped used clothing, and household items in the emergency staging areas, and shelter parks without coordination with the relevant humanitarian organization.

Prior studies suggest that a large proportion of donations, around 60% of the donations made to disasters of Hurricane Katrina and Haiti Earthquake were inappropriate (Holguin-Veras et al., 2007). The government also takes part in donations, which is evident in the case of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, Haiti Earthquake. One day after the earthquake, the U.S. government sent its 1st Special Operations Wing to deliver the donations, and evacuate American citizens. In support of the issue of logistics being a barrier to an effective response, interviews show that logisticians involved in the Haiti earthquake suggested that the unsolicited donations were the hardest barrier for initial emergency response.

Studies also describe the situation where a local warehouse after the 2011 tornadoes in Alabama, experienced a 6 feet high pile of toys, which made it difficult for the staff to get hold of the important clothes. Disposal of the inappropriate donations is also a problem, and a typical example is the case of the Haiti earthquake. In response, a renowned firm in the U.S., which deals in the manufacture of undergarments, was unable to sort out 40 containers of undergarments it had donated to an international NGO to aid casualties of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Although many of the garments were helpful, some of them were large for the Haitian people. Therefore,…

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