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News of the December 26 tsunami was almost immediately followed by news of donation scams, inefficient relief efforts, and good intentions gone awry. Longtime World Vision relief director Rich Moseanko sent out a list, condensed here, to help donors understand what's really needed after a major catastrophe.

1. Americans can help by collecting blankets, shoes, and clothing. The cost of shipping these items—let alone the time it takes to sort, pack, and ship them—is prohibitive. Since they are often manufactured for export to the U.S. in the very countries that need relief, it is far more efficient to purchase them locally. Cash is better.

2. Food and medicines must be airlifted to the disaster site. Food is virtually always available within a day's drive of the disaster site. Purchasing the food locally is more cost-efficient, and ensures that the food is appropriate to local customs and tastes. Medicines are often available within the country, too. India, for example, has a large pharmaceutical industry. Because medicines are high-value, low-weight commodities, in some cases they can and must be airlifted in to save lives.

3. If I send cash, my help won't get there. Reputable agencies send the vast majority of cash donations to the disaster site; the rest goes for administration, operating expenses, and monitoring the efficiency of their own operations. Donors have a right and a responsibility to ask aid groups how they will be using those donations, and what will be done with donations raised in excess of the need.

4. Developing countries depend on foreign expertise. While specialized assistance is always welcome, most relief and recovery efforts are carried out by local aid groups, police, firefighters, and neighbors ...

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In the Magazine

February 2005

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