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How Not To Help in Haiti

Sensible advice, it seems to me.HT: Daily Dish

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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Agreed. President Bush said as much a few days ago: "Bush urged people who want to help to send money. 'A lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash,' he said. 'That money will go to organizations on the ground who will be able to effectively spend it. One of the things President Clinton and I will do is make sure your money is spent wisely,' Bush said." (Source: Reuters 16th January).

I heard on the news this morning that the Red Cross has collected $100 million in donations, and that $22 million of that had been given via texting - essentially, by texting the word "Haiti" to a number, and the cellular carriers will pay the money to the Red Cross and debit the customer's account. Simple but powerful.

I would like to push back: If a group actively WANTS shoes (or other in kind donations) then I would donate them. Don't underestimate the increased susceptibility to various parasitic or infections conditions as a result of having to go barefoot in a tropical country with unsanitary sewage conditions -- or assume that Haitians have no problem affording shoes. Certainly, the major organizations want cash because they have zero use for in kind donations, and they are probably the most important organizations on the ground right now, but it's not like there aren't others that are there between catastrophes serving the more mundane needs of Haitian people.

As I understand it from a discussion about this on Talk of the Nation a few days ago, the problem with collecting and trying to send goods is that they get stalled at the docks and bottleneck the distribution effort. Moreover, there isn't the manpower to sort out unsolicited donations once it's received.One of the commentors noted that cash donations allow relief workers to buy things from other countries in the Carib. This means they can be purchased more cheaply and it will cost less to ship them--so your donation dollar probably stretches a lot further than donating goods.

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