When disaster strikes and emotions overwhelm us, it is easy to think that doing anything is better than doing nothing.
Research shows this is not the case. Estimates from previous crises show as much as two thirds of unsolicited material donations cannot be used and should not have been sent.
This was the case after the earthquake in Hawaii in 2010, after the Typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, and it is the case in Ukraine in 2022.
A study of news articles in five countries including Poland the first week of March shows people’s desire to donate quickly caused logistical problems. Too much arrived too quickly, and there was a lack of many of the most needed items.
I was in the Philippines in 2013 and saw all the unnecessary donations stacked in the warehouses of the local Red Cross who did not know what to do with them.
In most cases, old toys, clothes, extra bedding, food, and the like cannot be used. This may be because they aren’t packed appropriately for distribution, because items were damaged under transport, or simply because it’s impossible for private donors to know what is needed on the ground.
Unsolicited donations must be sorted, repacked, stored or discarded. This requires human resources and warehouse capacity, both of which should be used for more important things. The trucks transporting donations also add to traffic congestion.
The best thing to do is to give money to recognized organizations like Caritas, Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, or the Norwegian Refugee Council.
They know what is needed on the ground and how to best spend the money they receive. They have the logistics in place and can buy things locally.
An alternative is to support recognized local humanitarian organizations like Caritas Poland and Ukraine, Red Cross Ukraine, Voices of Children Foundation, or Razom for Ukraine.
How can you help refugees in your own country?
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) estimates Norway will receive at least 30 000 Ukrainian refugees in 2022. If you want to do something, it’s important to think about how to help most effectively and remember that this situation will last for a long time. There are many ways to contribute also after the media searchlight has moved on.
Remember that not everyone needs start their own thing. Research shows there are often too many initiatives in emergencies because too many organizations start their own programs. This creates overlap in some areas and shortfalls in others due to lacking collaboration and coordination.
Before you donate any items, ask organizations and refugee reception centres what they need and when they need it. Use your own knowledge and skills and think about how you can help. Yoga teachers can invite to free yoga sessions. If you speak Ukrainian or Russian, you can interpret.
We can all volunteer or include refugees socially, for example by inviting women into our networks.