1 minute readDisaster, International
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When Disasters Strike, Cash Is Best

When disasters strike, the first thing people want to know is “How can I help?” As a Red Crosser working in international communications, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is to see how people come together after tragedy, like the recent earthquake in Nepal, wanting to simply help in any way they can.

Many times, this well-intentioned and generous “How can I help?” question translates into donations that actually complicate an already difficult logistical situation on the ground. Donations like clothing, food and gifts, bought here in the U.S., are challenging to ship. In situations like Nepal, where transportation and logistics are difficult in the best of times, getting such donations in country and out to the people most in need wears heavy on responders. Whether it’s on the receiving end or the distribution end, the Red Cross and other disaster responders have learned over the years that cash is best.

Here’s why.

Cash involves no transportation costs, no delays, no customs and fees, no carbon footprint and it doesn’t divert relief workers’ time. Cash allows relief supplies to be purchased in markets close to the disaster site, which stimulates local economies by stabilizing employment and generating cash flow.  Cash donations also ensure that commodities are fresh and familiar to survivors, that supplies arrive expeditiously and that goods are culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate. For example, many western canned goods contain pork, something that those following a Halal diet (like many people in Nepal) don’t eat. Few material donations have this highly beneficial, four-fold impact.

The Red Cross takes this “cash is best” stance when responding to many different disasters. Cash transfer programming has become a critical element in international disaster response and has successfully helped people rebuild their lives in Haiti, the Philippines, Jordan and Bosnia, among others. While the Red Cross still distributes indispensable items following a disaster such as tarps, blankets and hygiene kits, putting cash in the hands of survivors allows them to buy the essentials necessary to start rebuilding their lives and continue to pay their bills. It helps stimulate the local economy by allowing them to make transactions from their local markets and gives people a sense of control in situations where control is often the last thing felt.

Wondering more about how you can help the Red Cross response in Nepal?

  • GIVE: To help those affected by the Nepal Earthquake, visit Redcross.org or contact your local chapter.
  • MAP: Find tasks ready for volunteers online to help with critical mapping efforts. No experience is needed, just a computer and Internet connection.
  • SHARE: Spread the word on relief efforts and ways to help online. Find and share information on social channels, including the global Red Cross Twitter account and American Red Cross Facebook and Twitter posts.

Information pulled from USAID’s Center for Disaster Information