Disaster Relief Aid: Does the money get there?

Volcanic ash covered everything in the Village of Kinaherjo/Indonesia

In the past month, Indonesia was struck by a trio of disasters. First, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake caused a 3m (10 feet) tsunami in Mentawai, Sumatra killing at least 400 people and displacing more than 500. Then, the eruption of Mt Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, displaced nearly 70,000 people in Java. Six villages were destroyed and about 12,800 people are currently living in camps. Lastly, while the archipelago nation is still reeling from the effects of tsunami and volcanic eruption, bad weather and volcanic ash is complicating aid delivery, while aftershocks in the area are causing people to flee for the hills. The U.S.G.S. has tracked several quakes larger than a magnitude of 5 in the last day.

Despite the complications, relief aid has been pouring in from various parts of the globe in the form of supplies and cash donations.  According to Chinese Embassy in Indonesia, European Commission allocated 1.5 million euro (US$2.08 million) in humanitarian assistance to “survivors” of the tsunami in Mentawai, West Sumatra, and the volcanic eruption of Mt. Merapi in Java. Australia has also pledged to provide up to $1 million (US$973,900) in an aid package. Similarly, China announced 10 million Yuan in cash while Singapore pledged an aid package of US$50,000.

Source: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim

The high in-flow of cash, however, does not necessarily mean that aid is reaching intended parties . As  The New York Times reports, in the remote Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra, due to the isolation of many villages and choppy seas, some victims had yet to receive any assistance three days after the disaster.  Additionally, rescue workers cannot reach the farther-flung coastal villages that, due to damaged roads, are accessible only by foot or by sea.

Indonesia is not alone to face such problems,  Haiti’s earthquake and Pakistan’s massive flood also posed similar challenges. Today, more than 12 million people are still in need of relief aid in Pakistan even when EU has doubled its flood aid to 150 million euros. According to data provided by Reliefweb, the desperate need for basic necessities and infrastructure such as health care, food, water, and adequate sanitation is largely unmet. Similarly, Haiti, irrespective of receiving millions of funds, is still struggling with January’s devastating earthquake that left survivors with only tents and tarps, not to mention the recent outbreak of deadly cholera.

Pouring astounding amounts of money does not necessarily help the disaster affected regions, as most of the money does not even reach the needy people. Disaster relief aid should go beyond Hercules planes dropping food and pledging whooping sum of money. While immediate relief is vital, ensuring that such relief is effective remains a challenge.

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2 thoughts on “Disaster Relief Aid: Does the money get there?

  1. Ian November 17, 2010 / 10:34 am

    Good article.
    What amazes me is that international aid agencies and their governments:-
    1. Continue to cynically use disasters for their own PR purposes to the detriment of victims.
    2. In contrast to military situations, they conveniently ignore the invention of helicopters and their application in reaching otherwise inaccessible areas.

    Even more seriously, what is required is a global re-think, by all of us, about the current global aid-delivery model and the best strategy for long- term effectiveness and sustainability.

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