There are all kinds of efforts underway to raise funds and collect supplies to help those who were in the path of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and other states.
Iowa State University’s Johanna Amaya has studied other disaster relief efforts and says the effort to help can sometimes cause more problems.
“We as individuals, are very well intended, and would like to help. But the problem is we send things we think are actually needed and are going to help. In the end they just basically make things worse,” Amaya says.
Amaya is an assistant professor of supply chain management and has visited disaster sites following Hurricane Sandy, the Nepal earthquake and the Ecuador earthquake. She says supplies should only be sent if the sender has been in contact with someone in the disaster zone and knows for certain the supplies are needed. Amaya says supplies that aren’t needed only back up the relief system.
“Sometimes people in some areas do not for example eat certain type of products or they do not wear specific items,” Amaya says. “For example, when we studying in Haiti — people were sending coats. Haiti is a tropical country so they don’t need that.” She says if you send bags of clothes they have to be sorted and that takes time and often the clothes go unused and are eventually just thrown away.
“It’s really well intended and people feel moved by the whole situation. It’s okay, but we need to make sure that we are actually helping and not posing more stress to the ones who are responding there,” according to Maya. She says situations are constantly changing in disaster areas, so what is in demand one day may not be in demand the next day. Maya says that’s why sending money is the best way to help those who are providing disaster relief.
“Relief agencies are really smart in trying to find the best prices. They will be able to use one dollar to buy way more than we would be able to buy with one dollar up here, for example,” Maya says. “They will be able to actually help more people with the amount money they receive if we spent the same amount. And they will be able to buy in the right quantities and according to the needs.” Maya says having mountains of relief supplies pouring in can create what’s called a second level disaster as they try to manage it all.
“It puts a lot of stress on them because they need to deviate their efforts from helping people to actually sorting, organizing, assembly, organizing boxes. Trying to more things from one place to another one.” Maya explains. “In the end they just quite doing it because they prefer to devote their time to those who have been impacted.”
Amaya says the best way to help as an individual is to find a legitimate relief agency and donate to them and let the agency target that donation to where it is most needed.