Cash donations work—here’s why
In 1991, Oxfam supported local partners in responding to the humanitarian emergency triggered by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Almost three decades hence, another volcano, this time Taal, is being monitored for the possibility of an explosive eruption. A volcanic eruption, because of its relative infrequency, tends to be more dramatic, as compared to, for instance, typhoons and drought. The Taal Volcano complex, like Mount Pinatubo, is also geographically accessible to main media hubs in the country; coverage thus tends to be more extensive, both locally and internationally. Information was widely and quickly available—very much so on social media. All these factors generated an outpouring of support—a veritable influx of donated goods brought to drop-off points and evacuation centers.
But, heartwarming as this spontaneous display of generosity is, it does have unintended consequences. The uncoordinated distribution of relief assistance results in uneven access to goods and services, with some evacuation centers receiving more than they need or can manage, while others remain underserved. Local economies, and mostly small merchants, are hurt by the huge volumes of goods from outside. Further, similar to what occurred during Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” inappropriate donations (evacuees are certainly not in need of evening gowns!) will have financial and logistical implications that raise the cost of the humanitarian response cycle from collection to shipping, sorting, warehousing, and distribution; and even contribute to traffic on roads that should be left clear for critical services. All these ultimately lead to diminishing the evacuees’ dignity and whatever decision-making is left in a situation where they are already not in control.
In the evacuation centers we visited, while displaced families expressed gratitude for the support they were receiving, many also said they would much rather receive cash, because they are in the best position to know what their immediate needs are and what to prioritize. For some, it was medicines, while others asked for laundry soap and hygiene items like toothbrushes and toilet paper.
There are also some specific needs that tend to be overlooked when relief efforts are not coordinated. For example, women have asked for sanitary pads, as well as additional food rations and liquids for breastfeeding mothers. Also, among the evacuees are Muslims who do not partake of pork. Now is a good opportunity for us Filipinos to reflect on how best to deploy our willingness to give. Aside from the immediate response, we also need to anticipate needs in situations of prolonged displacement. Proper evacuation center management is important, and a key feature of this would be to involve the evacuees themselves in running the affairs of their temporary residences.
Our experience over years of humanitarian response has shown us that cash donations enable more effective assistance. Fortunately, there exists several channels in the Philippines receiving cash donations to support trained and experienced frontline responders; the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response or Safer Philippines, is one. The Safer consortium is the result of the combined network and capabilities of various humanitarian organizations, including CODE-NGO, Humanitarian Response Consortium, and Nassa/Caritas Philippines, to address the gaps in financing local disaster relief efforts. Shifting to cash programming as soon as possible will benefit the evacuees as well as help jumpstart local markets, thus facilitating early recovery.
Truly, the tasks of meeting life-saving needs and rebuilding will continue to place significant pressure on resources. Government leadership is crucial to ensure that even as immediate needs are being met, plans are already being developed for the scenario of protracted, perhaps even permanent, displacement.
Lot Felizco is the country director of Oxfam Philippines. Oxfam is an international confederation of 19 humanitarian and development organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries. Visit https://philippines.oxfam.org/ to find out more.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.