After the havoc and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and in the Eastern United States, appeals for help and donations have popped up as reliably as Christmas chocolate will hit the shops around this time of the year.
At first sight, it sounds both normal and great: millions of people have suffered from the storm, the water, power outages and you can help them by donating 10, 20 or 50 $. An easy way to help someone in need.
On closer inspection however, donating money to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, especially in the US, is the dumbest idea ever.
“What?” I hear you cry out in shock, especially from my American readers. “What can possibly be wrong about donating money to victims of a natural disaster?” Let me explain: the problem with so many actions that seem good if evaluated as an isolated action is that there is no isolated action. More concretely, any money that you donate to victims of Sandy will be gone. You can’t donate it again to another cause. Because of this, all options of charitable giving compete with each other for your purse or cheque book.
When making a decision about a charitable donation, you have to assess, at the very least, two factors: need and impact.
In the Eastern United States, several hundred thousand people are now without electricity, without running water, many of the can’t go back to their homes, they have lost their cars and their other belongings. Their places of work might have been destroyed as well.
That’s bad. But all of those affected receive considerable help from local, state and federal emergency rescue services, police, fire fighters, hospitals, FEMA and so on. And honestly, as long as you can tweet and twitter non-stop about your plight or as long as your biggest problem is the cancellation of a marathon run, this doesn’t strike me as the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the decade.
In other parts of the world, people are starving to death, suffering from malaria or are exposed to hurricanes without the recourse of effective government help. I would respectfully suggest that these should be the priorities of your help, especially considering that the US are one of the richest countries in the world.
Because of the higher level of prices in the US and because the basic needs (like getting enough food to survive) which are cheaper to cover, have already been met in the US, your donation will have much less of an impact if it goes to the US.
If you donate 100 $ to New Jersey or New York, somebody will buy a new charger for his Apple iMac and order a pizza for the rest. If you donate 100 $ to Swaziland, Mali or Afghanistan, a child could get fed for a month, could get a life-saving vaccination or could get enough schoolbooks for a few years of education.
If you have family or friends that have been affected by Hurricane Sandy, I fully understand that you prefer to help them directly. But if you are an unrelated donor who wants to give some money, please think again and look for a more worthwhile cause.
(Anläßlich des Elbe- und Donau-Hochwassers 2013 erschien ein ähnlicher Artikel auf Deutsch.)