disaster relief


Typhoon Aftermath: How’s the Philippines recovery going? | 

Hello! It’s 2014 and the Humanosphere podcast is back.

This week, Tom Paulson and I look back at the previous year: What global health stories were most popular? Which ones were neglected and less attention-grabbing but really important? What’s Humanosphere’s outlook for this year?

Then we move on to an interview I recorded last month with Jeremy Konyndyk, the Director of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, about the Philippines. By that point, several weeks had elapsed since Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons (hurricanes) ever witnessed, hit the island nation. The storm killed thousands and displaced millions (although Konyndyk says there are not millions of homeless people, just millions with damaged homes).

Konyndyk, who is overseeing much of the US government’s aid response to the disaster, says there’s reason to be optimistic. My reference point in our interview was the earthquake in Haiti. Konyndyk says a more robust government and economy means Filipinos are on track to recover from the storm more quickly and strongly than Haitians.

But from the destruction of coconut trees critical to livelihoods to “no build” zones along the coastlines, where the poor had been building homes anyway, some thorny issues remain.

And I ask him whether USAID, which critics say bungled much of the Haiti recovery, is doing business with more local contractors and producers. Moreover, can the taxpaying public be truly confident that our government’s recovery assistance to Filipinos is properly managed and successful? Listen and find out.

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Mercy Corps CEO says focus on emergencies neglects chronic disasters | 

Mercy Corps DonateHigh-profile disasters like the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines serve as a powerful reminder of the need for the many humanitarian organizations out there – and also as a great marketing opportunity.

Go to the websites of CARE, Oxfam, World Vision, Mercy Corps or just about any of the thousands of such groups and chances are at the top you’ll see (as shown at right) a plea for donations in support of what the organization is doing for the disaster du jour.

“It’s wonderful to see the outpouring of support for this disaster, which is massive,” said Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps.

But the disaster donation pitch differs from another pitch frequently made by Keny-Guyer, who recently spoke in Seattle at the annual Global Washington gathering. He talked about the need for the humanitarian sector to move away from an emphasis on reactive and feel-good efforts toward a more sustainable and effective approach to reducing poverty and suffering.

Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO Mercy Corps
Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO Mercy Corps

“In the non-profit sector, if you can tell a good story that raises money you can continue to keep doing what you’ve always done even if it really isn’t having much of an impact,” Keny-Guyer said.

Even the U.S. military – to which all American taxpayers are required to donate – often regards these international disaster relief efforts as great for improving its image in regions where our bases are not always the most popular. As the New York Times noted, the US military has been having a hard sell seeking a bigger presence in the Philippines.

As this AP story notes, military strategists are well aware that relief efforts make them look good. Fox News is even more blunt in noting that part of the big relief effort in the Philippines is aimed at competing with China, for hearts and minds, and for demonstrating our technical superiority.

The world is now legitimately focused on the immediate needs of the Philippines, Keny-Guyer said, but the biggest humanitarian crisis out there is receding from the headlines even as it grows worse. Continue reading

Five Things To Know About the White House Foreign Aid Budget Proposal | 

tumblr_lth6cvIy6L1r3sjono1_400If you remember how a bill becomes a law from your Schoolhouse Rock days, you already know that the the White House proposal is just that, a proposal. The real work is getting agreement in the House and Senate to get a bill that lands on the desk of the President. If all goes well, President Obama signs that budget. The problem here is that the House and Senate are led by opposing parties with different ideas on how to deal with the financial troubles that face the United States.

The usual order of things goes that the President sends recommendations to the congressional bodies and then they hammer out the details. This time it is the other way around.

This proposal comes two months later than expected. It offers plenty to snack on, but below are five highlights – the good, the bad, the ugly and the rest. Continue reading

Three years later: Was the massive humanitarian response in Haiti a success? | 

Co-authored by Tom Murphy


Immediately after the 2010 quake, many Haitians were given tents as 'temporary' shelters. Three years later, nearly 400,000 still live in them.              UNDP
Immediately after the 2010 quake, many Haitians were given tents as ‘temporary’ shelters. Three years later, nearly 400,000 still live in them. UNDP


The international community’s response to the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti was one of the largest disaster relief responses ever carried out involving many governments, agencies, hundreds of humanitarian organizations and about $9 billion in private donations and foreign government assistance.

So it may be a bit disconcerting that, three years on, the aid and development community still can’t seem to agree on whether the effort should be regarded as largely a success or a failure.

“There are still something like 360,000 people living in tents,” said Nicole Phillips, a human rights attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy and Haiti. Philips is speaking today at the University of Washington along with documentary filmmaker Michele Mitchell who is screening her film Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? – a critical analysis of the lack of accountability within the humanitarian community.

Vijaya Ramachandran
Vijaya Ramachandran

Other aid experts, like Vijaya Ramachandran at the prestigious DC-based think tank the Center for Global Development, have asked the same question. As Ramachandran wrote last spring:

The Government of Haiti has received just 1 percent of humanitarian aid and somewhere between 15 and 21 percent of longer-term relief aid. As a result, NGOs and private contractors in Haiti have built an extensive infrastructure for the provision of social services. Yet, these entities appear to have limited accountability….

But many of those who actually do the work there say this alleged lack of adequate financial accountability doesn’t necessarily mean Haitians did not benefit, that lives were not saved and that many millions of people’s lives have been improved.

JeffWright2“There’s a reason it’s called a disaster,” said Jeff Wright, emergency operations manager for World Vision and a disaster relief worker with lots of experience in Haiti. These situations are always chaotic and hardly ideal for precise bookkeeping, Wright said, adding that Haiti was chaotic and difficult before the quake.

“Are things in Haiti good today? No. Are they better than they would have been had we not responded? Absolutely.” Continue reading

Two views on disaster relief in Japan | 

Flickr, jchong

More than a month after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan, experts are still analyzing the cataclysmic event and coming to startling conclusions — such as the recent announcement the tsunami was more than 120 feet high in at least one location.

Another surprising observation made early on by some aid experts was that, despite the size and scope of the tragedy, Japan didn’t want or need disaster relief assistance.

Some aid watchdog organizations, like GiveWell, have consistently recommended against donating to the relief effort — and specifically questioned a $1 million Gates Foundation grant to Mercy Corps for Japan relief work.

Throughout the crisis, the Japanese government had asked that private, outside relief organizations stay away because of the pressure outsiders put on the already strained infrastructure and resources.

Some did, some didn’t. But many did actively solicit funds to assist Japan.

One aid worker who wrote a post for Humanosphere anonymously called the fund-raising done by many aid groups an “ugly game” because it was unlikely the money would be needed in Japan, the third wealthiest nation in the world.

Others said it may have been misleading, but it was a legitimate opportunity to raise funds that could be used elsewhere to help those in crises given less media attention.

Japan did seek and receive assistance from governments, the U.S. military and the International Red Cross. But it’s still not clear to what extent private relief organizations have been able to assist.

Here are two views.

One is from Joy Portella of Mercy Corps, which did offer active assistance in Japan. Portella says:

If you had asked me two months ago if Mercy Corps – which normally works in impoverished places like Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea – would ever respond to an earthquake in Japan, I would have said “no way.” That was before this incredibly unusual event, and before I saw Japan’s devastation and need with my own eyes.

Another view is offered by Derek Sciba of World Concern. The organization decided early on not to try to offer direct assistance in Japan. Sciba says:

World Concern’s mission is to serve the poorest of the poor in developing countries – those who have no means of responding themselves, or rebuilding their lives. Because of this, we have elected to not mount a direct response in Japan – or to solicit funds on a large scale. It was a decision that we did not take lightly, but it has to do with who World Concern is called to serve.

You can read their full perspectives below. Continue reading