But... We need to do SOMETHING!

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Part of learning emergency communications is learning how to deal with disasters and what is actually needed. An excellent article on what is not needed from CBS News:

When disaster relief brings anything but relief
When Nature grows savage and angry, Americans get generous and kind. That's admirable. It might also be a problem.

"Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful," said Juanita Rilling, director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. "And they have no idea that they're doing it."

Rilling has spent more than a decade trying to tell well-meaning people to think before they give.

In 1998 Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras. More than 11,000 people died. More than a million and a half were left homeless.

And Rilling got a wake-up call: "Got a call from one of our logistics experts who said that a plane full of supplies could not land, because there was clothing on the runway. It's in boxes and bales. It takes up yards of space. It can't be moved.' 'Whose clothing is it?' He said, 'Well, I don't know whose it is, but there's a high-heeled shoe, just one, and a bale of winter coats.' And I thought, winter coats? It's summer in Honduras."

Humanitarian workers call the crush of useless, often incomprehensible contributions "the second disaster."

In 2004, following the Indian Ocean tsunami, a beach in Indonesia was piled with used clothing.

There was no time for disaster workers to sort and clean old clothes. So the contributions just sat and rotted.

"This very quickly went toxic and had to be destroyed," said Rilling. "And local officials poured gasoline on it and set it on fire. And then it was out to sea."

People's hearts are in the right place but they simply do not know what is needed and how their efforts could be better spent. A perfect example:

You may not think that sending bottles of water to devastated people seems crazy. But Rilling points out, "This water, it's about 100,000 liters, will provide drinking water for 40,000 people for one day. This amount of water to send from the United States, say, to West Africa -- and people did this -- costs about $300,000. But relief organizations with portable water purification units can produce the same amount, a 100,000 liters of water, for about $300."

Exactly. That $300,000 could provide so much more relief than just a day's worth of water for a bunch of people.

I was thinking about this earlier today - I was in Bellingham and there are a lot of people panhandling on street corners. I could give one of them $5 and it would provide a balanced 2,000 calorie meal for that one person. The same money given to a shelter or food bank would provide a similar balanced meal for three or four people. Sometimes people act with their feelings and not with the reality of the situation.

Not evil, just terribly wasteful and not thought through.

I really like these people - Team Rubicon

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