Myths About Disaster Relief: World Vision’s New President Weighs In

World Vision Canada’s incoming president and CEO Michael Messenger is on the ground in Nepal supporting World Vision’s emergency response to last Saturday’s devastating earthquake. Prior to his departure, Michael reflected on a few common myths about how aid agencies respond to a disaster of this magnitude:

MYTH #1: Good intentions always produce good results

Consider this: would you prefer to have life-saving surgery done by a friend who loves you? Or a highly skilled surgeon with years of training? The same is true when it comes to the logistics, skills, and experience needed to execute a relief effort in the days and weeks following a disaster.

World Vision incoming President Michael Messenger in Nepal
World Vision incoming President Michael Messenger in Nepal

Seeing Nepal’s death toll skyrocket past 5,000 is devastating and many generous hearts want to do more than just donate money. But while motivated by good intentions, their efforts can be counter-productive. Independent food and clothing donations can clog up the supply line and while volunteers can help, relief staff often have enough on their plate without training, coordinating and translating for them.

MYTH #2: The more money raised, the faster the response

There’s a tendency to assume money is the only roadblock in a disaster response. But natural disasters are—by their very nature—complex. No matter how generous donors are, many factors delay progress:

  • Access – Damaged airports, seaports and roads clog aid channels. Bad weather also prevents aid workers from reaching disaster zones.
  •  Local government – Without strong political support, aid workers can find themselves “swimming in mud” to get necessary permissions and permits.
  • Poverty – Poor countries often lack infrastructure such as health care and transportation that are key in building a disaster response.

Lack of coordination – The presence of new organizations that aren’t a part of established relief responses can lead to problems with duplicating resources.

MYTH #3: Relief efforts are chaotic and disorganized

In Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, nearly everything is destroyed and what’s left is at risk of collapsing from the pouring rain. Families are huddled under tarps, worried about the weight of water on the buildings that are still standing. There are concerns that food and other essential supplies may start to run low.

Disasters inflict chaos, and it’s common to read reports of aid agencies that also seem disorganized and chaotic in their efforts. It’s true that there are gaps, often made worse by the severity of the disaster, but organizations like World Vision work intentionally to ensure their disaster response is synchronized with other NGOs, local authorities, and the communities that so urgently need life-saving supplies.

 MYTH #4: The faster donations are spent, the faster people are helped

Rescue efforts and the distribution of food, water, shelter, and medical care must be accomplished as quickly as possible. However, experienced agencies know that it takes at least 3-5 years to help countries start to reestablish themselves and that they must plan carefully if they’re going to meet both the present and future needs of a recovering community.

It’s natural to feel the urgency to help families and children in need. We feel the same way, and so does the Government of Canada —who have announced they will be matching donations until May 25. That’s why we’re asking Canadians to donate to Nepal. Funds can be used immediately to purchase critically needed items and relief organizations like World Vision have established channels to deliver aid efficiently—to those who need it most.

World Vision Canada is an affiliate organization of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), publishers of Faith Today. Watch our July/August issue for more information and insight on the Nepal disaster. Visit www.theEFC.ca for a full list of affiliate organizations, many of which are active in Nepal disaster relief. 

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