19 November 2015
Now that we are in the Pacific Cyclone season the El Nino driven by the warming East and Central Pacific Ocean is causing droughts and is predicted to fuel stronger, more frequent cyclones in the coming months.
When a disaster strikes and we see the devastation and suffering in the news it's understandable to want to help, and aid agencies are always extremely grateful for the support. However, it's important to help in the right way so the response can be as quick and effective as possible.
Gifts such as clothing and food, while they are well-intended, can actually hamper aid efforts and have a negative impact on disaster-affected communities. Unless specific goods are requested, the most effective way to help is to donate money to reputable aid agencies.
Why are cash donations preferable to donated goods?
Firstly, unsolicited goods take far more time, effort and cost to reach their destination than a cash contribution does. Containers of goods need to be transported, cleared by customs, sorted and distributed by a team on the ground. This can end up costing aid agencies money that could be used much more effectively in helping those in need.
If food, clothing and medical supplies are needed, certain organisations are geared up to provide bulk supplies quickly, without having to divert members of their team to sort through incoming donated items.
Secondly, local economic activity is crucial to restoring livelihoods after a disaster. Free goods shipped in from New Zealand can distort local economies by forcing down the price of locally produced items, and compete with local retailers, making it more difficult for locals to get back on their feet.
Instead, cash donations can be used to support the local economy through aid organisations buying items locally, or increasingly through cash transfers to affected households that purchase what they need most in local markets. This helps to stimulate the economy and provide for immediate needs quickly and effectively following a crisis.
Thirdly, unsolicited goods are often not appropriate. Sending heavy winter clothing to Pacific Islands (this actually happens) will not really benefit those in need, and toys are secondary in need to clean water, food, shelter and the rebuilding of livelihoods.
These non-life-saving items can clog up docks and airports and prevent lifesaving supplies from reaching disaster-affected areas.
A cash donation to an appeal helps aid agencies to buy whatever is needed quickly to meet the changing and complex demands of affected communities.
The final point to consider is culture. In places with a strong culture of gift-giving, people may not refuse unwanted goods for fear of seeming impolite or ungrateful. Think of those well-meaning gifts you received at Christmas that you politely accepted but remain unused, taking up storage space. This often occurs in disaster-affected countries but on a much larger scale and with more detrimental consequences.
Not sending goods doesn't mean you can't help. If you have unused items around the house, try selling them in New Zealand to raise money to give to a registered charity who has launched an appeal.
Experts predict that we are likely to see an increasing intensity of cyclones this season (officially November to April) in the Pacific. Experience tells us that the best way to help our island neighbours is to donate to a reputable aid agency and make sure that your cash donation reaches those who need it most.
7 September 2015
New Zealand humanitarian aid workers have welcomed the government’s announcement this afternoon committing to taking 750 Syrian refugees over three years and upping the amount of humanitarian aid - but they say this country should still double the permanent refugee quota.
The NGO Disaster Relief Forum (NDRF) represents NZ NGOs working in the humanitarian aid, including working in the camps on the Syrian border. The Forum’s chair, Ian McInnes says, the government’s emergency measure for refugees is a good start but this country still needs to lift the permanent quota in light of the increasing refugee numbers which are now at unprecedented levels and will be for some time.
“It is a shame that it has taken the well-publicised photo and story of a death of a child on a beach to wake us up to the desperation of refugees,” says Mr McInnes. “While the emergency package is good news for some of the many fleeing the Syria conflict, raising the permanent quota can help refugees in other hot spots around the globe.”
Mr McInnes says New Zealanders like to think that we are welcoming, but we, he says we could be far more hospitable to refugees. “Per head of population, we lag well behind many countries, including Australia whose ratio is three times as high.”
The NDRF chair points out that another way New Zealanders can help refugees is to support the work of Kiwi aid agencies that have programmes in refugee camps bordering Syria by going to their various websites or keeping an eye on ndrf.org.nz which will list the latest agencies going to appeal.
17 June 2015
Humanitarian aid organisations are calling on the New Zealand government to advocate for the immediate and unconditGovional cancellation of Nepal’s foreign debt after the devastation caused by the April earthquakes.
Ian McInnes, chair of the NGO Disaster Relief Form, says NZ NGOs are adding their weight to a growing global call for debt relief in Nepal and have banded together to ask the Minister of Finance Bill English to advocate for debt cancellation and relief amongst other World Bank and IMF members.
The Nepalese government has an external debt of NZ$5.4 billion which it is obligated to repay at the same time as it is trying to provide emergency relief to its people and rebuild vital infrastructure.
The IMF has indicated it is considering its response, having recently provided around NZ$140 million debt relief to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone following the Ebola outbreak.
The majority of Nepal’s debt is owed to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (approx. NZ$2.15 billion and NZ$2.6 billion respectively). A lesser amount (NZ$77 million) is owed to the IMF. Using this fund to relieve some of the financial pressure on Nepal could provide substantive help to the country.
Already ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index, the country is dependent on outside funding to provide relief to the estimated 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
More than 500 thousand houses have been destroyed and half of that again are partially damaged. The demand for materials is pushing up costs while landslides and other damage are making it difficult to access some communities. The initial estimate is that it will cost nearly NZ$3 billion to rebuild homes, hospitals, government offices and historic buildings
Pauline McKay of CWS says humanitarian aid NGOs are concerned Nepal’s reconstruction will be overtaken by other pressing humanitarian demands. “To cancel Nepal’s debts would mean the freeing up of more than NZ$300 million dollars (annual debt repayments) for the rebuild, and for the investment in vital school and medical facilities.”
23 February 2015
As discussions heat up on how New Zealand should respond to the growing crises in Iraq and Syria, the NGO Disaster Relief Forum of Aotearoa (NDRF) is calling for the New Zealand Government to focus on increasing financial support for the ongoing humanitarian response in the region.
“The New Zealand government and the public have been contributing to this crisis for some time, but the problem has simply escalated. We need to continue supporting the work that is being done to help combat this horrific humanitarian crisis,” says the chair of the NDRF and TEAR Fund CEO Ian McInnes.
Many NDRF members are working with, and supporting, local community organisations who know first-hand what the humanitarian needs are for people in their area and are able to navigate through the complexities of conflict in the region. Their work includes ongoing support of the refugee crisis in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
“Our partners have been operating in both [Iraq and Syria] for decades. They have a strong track record with local authorities and know how to get things done,” says Pauline McKay, the National Director of Christian World Service.
The latest UN report on the humanitarian response in Syria says that over the last three years humanitarian needs have increased more than six times the rate of funding. While in Iraq the UN reports 5.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, a situation that has continued to deteriorate since June last year.
The UN appeal for Iraq alone is for US$2.2 billion, but they have so far received only 37% of that figure. Members of the European Parliament have called for the international community to deliver on its pledges to step up humanitarian aid.
In its bid to get a seat on the UN Security Council, New Zealand lobbied on the issue of peace and security. Now it is a member of the Council the pressure is on for it to show more leadership in the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
19 August 2014
New Zealand aid organisations who work in disaster relief and emergency management are thanking New Zealanders for their generosity towards humanitarian work around the globe on World Humanitarian Day today (19th August, 2014).
Chair of the NGO Disaster Relief Forum, Ian McInnes says “Over recent months, the humanitarian landscape has become more complex. Scenes from Iraq and Gaza have regularly featured on our televisions and websites”.
He says New Zealanders have been unhesitating in their support for humanitarian efforts in these disaster zones. “We sit isolated by distance and culture from some of these events yet Kiwis have it in their hearts to support humanitarian efforts.”
New Zealanders donate around $170 million a year to development NGOs and a large slice of that money goes to assisting in humanitarian efforts to bring relief to typhoon, flood and earthquake survivors, as well as those displaced by conflict.
Mr McInnes says, New Zealand NGOs are committed to responding to the needs of communities affected by humanitarian events. World Humanitarian Day celebrates the efforts of aid workers who often work in high-risk environments.
29 July 2014
NZ NGOs are responding to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip with news today of an upsurge in violence and an increasing number of civilian casualties.
Seven members of the NGO Disaster Relief Forum (NDRF) have launched or are about to launch appeals to raise funds that will help their partner organisations in Gaza. They are Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Christian World Service (CWS), Oxfam New Zealand, Save the Children New Zealand, UNICEF New Zealand and World Vision New Zealand. TEAR Fund will launch an appeal tomorrow.
These organisations are working with their partner organisations to provide food and aid for displaced families, medical treatment, water, sanitation and hygiene, cash grants, protection, education and psychosocial counselling for children.
New Zealander, Alex Snary, National Director of World Vision's work in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, recently visited children in Gaza during a brief cease-fire. “Even after the immediate needs of food and shelter are met, the psychological suffering of the children and grieving for those who were killed will continue for months to come”, he says.
While Trish Murray from CWS who was in Gaza in May says children who were still suffering from the 2012 attacks are now being re-traumatised. “Vital infrastructure has been destroyed. The people need food, water, medical treatment and shelter. But more than anything they need the military offensive to end and real steps towards building a just peace."
The organisations going to appeal are all members of the NGO Disaster Relief Forum, a network of NZ charities that respond to disasters and humanitarian crises internationally. You can find more information about what each of these organisations are doing by going to the NDRF website or directly to the agencies concerned.