4.3. Partnerships for in-kind donations

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The arrival of large quantities of donations in a country affected by a disaster or emergency presents a major challenge for humanitarian actors when it comes to organizing and managing this aid—which can be relevant and important to meeting needs or can constitute an additional burden.

The technical and logistical challenges involved are compounded when the donations are inappropriate, sent in haste and not in line with the real needs of the affected population. (Following the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador, an estimated 37% of the medicines received as donations proved to be inappropriate, in spite of a list of needs provided by the Salvadoran government).

All disaster-affected countries, as well as humanitarian actors and donor agencies, are affected –not to mention the victims themselves—when international aid is uncoordinated, inappropriate or unsolicited. There are many reasons for why this continues to occur, but it is possible to identify a number of general causes.

  • Myths persist such as "any assistance received is useful, whatever it is" or "it is better to have more than needed rather than less", when in reality, not all aid received is useful. Misguided donations can cause chaos and require a great deal of time and money to sort through them, classify the content and ship them on their way. The cost-effectiveness of these donations is very low given the effort it takes to ensure they reach the affected communities.
  • Existing mechanisms for receiving and managing donations are not always respected in countries that receive aid, or there is a lack of knowledge of the channels or technical and administrative procedures that have already been set up in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • On the part of countries that receive aid, the damage and needs assessment must be processed so that it contributes to improving decision-making and best practices vis a vis the receipt of donations. As a result, it is necessary to have clear mechanisms in place that are useful in terms of orienting offers of assistance to existing needs. It is not therefore only an issue of “knowing how to donate” but also of knowing “how to ask.”
  • The communications media – national and international –have a great deal of influence when it comes to triggering or to justifying humanitarian operations. Nevertheless, they often encourage spontaneous and indiscriminate donations without solid knowledge of the assessment of needs, often when altruism is high and donors are very open to collaboration and solidarity.

This problem will not be solved by one agency or one country alone and therefore alliances are being formed to tackle the most pressing problems. One such partnership is the inter-agency campaign Be a Better Donor, a partnership among PAHO/WHO, UNICEF, OCHA, the World Food Program, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the IFRC and Intermon Oxfam.

The guide “Practical recommendations for humanitarian donations” is one of the major components of this initiative, which seeks to raise awareness and promote exchange of experience among donors, authorities and communications media as to the importance of knowing how to make and seek efficient humanitarian donations in disaster situations. In preparing the guide, agencies reviewed and drew upon the conclusions and recommendations reached in many international fora. Documents and publications from major international humanitarian agencies were also used as a reference to assemble and present – in a practical and operational format – a summary of recommendations aimed at three groups: donors, national risk management organizations and the communications media. The guide promotes collaboration between these three agents in order to adopt better practices and do away with attitudes and myths that slow down or compromise the donations process.

Some examples of the recommendations include:

  • For national authorities: plan and set up versatile mechanisms and tools for the receipt, selection and distribution of donations; practice transparency and rapid accountability in the process of receiving and using donations.
  • For donor agencies: have prior knowledge of and use existing mechanisms for coordination and management of donations to the affected country.
  • For the communications media: take the role of promoting and guaranteeing transparency and avoid contributing to the spread of myths that complicate the management of donations.

The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) is another example of an international partnership that addresses issues related to international aid. CIDI provides information and guidance in support of appropriate international disaster relief and offers assistance to government agencies, foreign embassies, individuals, groups and corporations in choosing the best ways to offer assistance intended for those affected by disasters overseas. This includes advice regarding in-kind donations, cash donations and opportunities to volunteer.

CIDI’s outreach activities target communities where diaspora groups from disaster–prone countries are likely to respond to disasters in their homeland in order to lead to fewer inappropriate donations that pose a danger to disaster victims, less disruption of the local economies resulting from an inundation of free “relief goods” that compete for sales in the local markets, and a quicker response. CIDI posts fact sheets and situation reports from leading relief and development agencies, guidelines, ideas for raising funds and other useful tools. Click here to view a group of good public service announcements on good donations.

Finally, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are undertaking efforts, through ministries of foreign affairs, to create norms and procedures to improve the organization and facilitate the arrival of international humanitarian assistance. The Andean Region of South America, had produced the Guidelines for Mutual Assistance in Disaster Situations in Andean Region Countries. In Central America, CEPREDENAC has published regional procedures for the efficient and effective coordination of international cooperation, destined to aid ministries of foreign affairs in Central American countries, Belize and the Dominican Republic. Both of these documents are available in Spanish only.