5 Questions for...Jessica Alexander, Author, 'Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid'
November 19, 2013
When Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines on November 7, the storm's winds of 190 mph-plus unofficially made it the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall. The destruction that ensued was catastrophic: more than 3,900 people killed and tens of thousands missing, half a million homes destroyed, and millions of people displaced. As has been the case in many recent natural disasters, aid and humanitarian agencies responded quickly and with the best of intentions but were stymied by sub-standard and/or damaged infrastructure and logistical bottlenecks.
The ferocious intensity of Haiyan also led experts and officials in the Philippines and elsewhere to connect the storm to climate change -- a contention likely to be debated for years to come.
Over the weekend, PND asked Jessica Alexander, author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid, to rate emergency relief efforts in the Phillipines, what Americans can do to help, and whether she thinks climate change is contributing to the destructiveness of weather-related natural disasters. For more information about how you can contribute to relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines, click here, here, and here).
Jessica Alexander: Americans should give money to a reputable humanitarian agency -- either local or international -- that is already on the ground there. It's sometimes difficult to know where to donate, but there are ways people can narrow their search. Donate to organizations that had a pre-typhoon presence in the Philippines, are transparent about how they are spending money, are clear about what the needs are right now and how their programs are responding to those needs, and are intentional about linking their efforts with local and government responses.
If people feel strongly about a certain issue, they can donate to an organization that focuses on that issue: there are agencies that work on issues related to children, others that work strictly on health issues or that specialize in water and sanitation, and so on.
Americans should not give "gifts in kind," nor should they hop on a plane with the thought of becoming a first-responder themselves. Emergencies caused by a natural disaster -- the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for example, or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 -- resulted in a lot of well-intentioned people sending inappropriate items to the affected country -- food items that fail to take into account the culinary and dietary preferences of the local people, used or unsuitable clothing that ends up clogging ports and littering roadsides, medicines with labels in English, leaving people in affected countries without a clue as to how to take or use them.
While well-intentioned people may think these are "donations," they come at a high cost to the agencies who must transport the items, sort them once they arrive at their destination, ensure that they are equitably distributed, and warehouse the surplus. First responders are having a hard enough time right now getting food, water, and shelter to people in affected regions of the Philippines, and more often than not donations in kind, however well intentioned, slow the whole operation down.