20 January 2010

An Essential Read on Haiti Giving

Ms. Freschi over at Aid Watchers explains how the outpouring of giving can affect NGO’s and in turn the places where the money is directed.  I have highlighted some things in this regard and do not mean to make light of the situation in Haiti, but I cannot ignore the fact the many negative consequences that may arise out of such an event and the ensuing giving frenzy.  Most notable is the rise of new or inexperienced NGO’s.  Please, if you have to give, direct it towards an organization that is well established.

Most of all, I just wish that the same people that managed to raise $16 Billion for the tsunami victims would remain informed about people living in dire circumstances around the world.  Seeing that it was not the case, I hope that the Haiti quakes can bring people to a better understanding of what is happening around the world.  Sadly, I remain a pessimist.

Too much of a good thing? Making the most of your disaster donations

by Laura Freschi

The global outpouring of support for people affected by the South Asia earthquake and tsunamis of 2004 added up to more than $14 billion.

One notable fact about this $14 billion is that it represents the most generous international response to a natural disaster on record. Another is that it exceeded the total estimated cost of damages from the storm by some $4 billion, or about 30 percent.

What drove these record-breaking sums in the aftermath of the tsunami was not aid from governments, although that too was large. It was private individuals and companies who reached into their pockets and gave generously, to the Red Cross, to UNICEF and other UN agencies, and above all to what is estimated to be the largest proliferation of NGOs that had ever implemented relief efforts in a single disaster.

We don’t yet know how the Haiti response will compare. We do know that donor pledges to help those affected by last Tuesday’s earthquake in Port-au-Prince, pushed along by texting and twitter campaigns, have also been fast and plentiful (while no list seems totally comprehensive, there are tallies of pledges here , here and here).

And we know that some of the same conditions that made the response to the tsunami so generous are at play in Haiti as well. For one, the proximity to the Christmas season, when many Western donors are predisposed to be thinking about giving, and have holiday charity solicitations fresh in their minds. For another, the barrage of media coverage, especially (from Haiti) television stories featuring dramatic rescues that underscore the heroism of American-funded rescue teams.

Relief agencies having a lot of money to draw upon had many real, positive consequences for the survivors of the tsunami in South Asia. Quick-response relief efforts received praise from evaluators and local populations. But the unprecedented pledges in answer to post-tsunami fundraising appeals didn’t solve all problems, and in fact amplified some existing ones—like competition among NGOs, funding decisions based on media and political pressure rather than actual needs or capacities of affected countries, and weakening humanitarian impartiality.

The authors of one report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition* found that generous funding “exceeded the absorption capacity of an overstretched humanitarian industry” and actually served as a disincentive for NGOs to work together and pool resources and information. It also caused inexperienced NGOs to proliferate, and encouraged even experienced actors to work outside their realm of expertise.

Some NGOs that found themselves with unexpected amounts of money to spend responded by extending the time horizons or scope of their programs. Only Médecins sans Frontières was quick to admit that they had enough donations for the tsunami and request that additional funds help people elsewhere, a move which initially drew criticism from other NGOs. (MSF posted a similar statement for Haiti last week).

Humanitarian aid is supposed to be allocated according to the principle of impartiality — the idea that assistance should be offered according to need, not nationality, or political belief, or even how compelling a particular disaster may be to donors. This may be an impossible ideal, but consider that the $14 billion for survivors of the tsunami works out to about $7,000 per person, and compare that to the roughly $150 per person for Somalis affected by civil strife in 2005, or $3 per person for the 2004 floods in Bangladesh.

It may seem callous to suggest even by analogy that the flow of funds going immediately to Haiti be in any way stemmed or diverted. But the effects of big fundraising appeals are complex, and not as temporary we might assume: “The scale of the resources to be spent will distort agency programmes in favour of tsunami-affected areas for years to come,” found another report.

The solution is not to stop donations to organizations doing good work in Haiti. Haitians need international help to rebuild now. The point is rather to give money in such a way that mitigates the negative effects of this compassionate onslaught of giving, and encourages the international system to allocate funds effectively and fairly. Other, good blogs have already discussed some strategies; I give you three of them:

  1. Don’t restrict (or earmark) your donations to be used only in Haiti, but rather allow your chosen NGO to spend the money you donate as they see fit. If you don’t trust them to allocate your funds effectively to where they are most needed, then why are you giving them money in the first place?
  2. Take up the Philanthrocapitalism blog’s advice to give an equal amount to “someone suffering just as much, but less dramatically, elsewhere in the world.”
  3. Space out your giving. Organizations with a history of working closely with Haitian communities will still be there in six months. They will probably be there in a year, and probably in five years too. They will need your money then as well, when the spotlight has shifted to the next disaster.

12 January 2010

Trying out this ping thing... Testing to see if it really hits all of my social devices.

11 January 2010

Yea I Said I Wouldn’t

But how long will Western press continue to view Africa as if it is the size of England?

In a radio interview Irvin Khoza, chairman of the 2010 local organising committee, stressed the distance between his country and Angola.

"The challenge posed by the attack is the misconception that Africa is a country, not a continent," he told SA FM.

"People in the world are thinking of Africa as one country... we don't share the same border with Angola... it's not even close to South Africa," he said.

It is more than 1,500 miles (2,500 km) from Luanda to Pretoria - with Namibia or Botswana sitting in between the two nations.


The attack on the Togolese team has no bearing or connection to what may or may not happen in South Africa this summer.  It is like taking the attempted bombing on the flight to Detroit and then ask if people should be worried about flying to Switzerland.

06 January 2010


I promised a big update and it looks like it will not happen anytime soon.  I have the domain name until about October, so I may play around a bit since I already paid.  For now, I am going to not blog at all and consider if I may return and how.

Thank you to all who followed this year.  Suggestions are more than welcome.  The original intent was to provide information for my own personal record and to keep friends and family at home up to speed with my life in Kenya.  Now that I am back home, that purpose is no longer necessary.  So, I am open to any ideas about continuing this project and taking it into a new(er) direction.

02 January 2010

Found via Chris Blattman’s blog written by Olumide Abimbola, a Nigerian anthropology PhD.  Pretty much sums up what happened to me over the past year in Kenya.  Seeing my first bribe was shocking.  By the end, I knew it happened but did not think twice about its occurrence.  There are many other instances of this from the year.  Being back home it feels as if they are missing.  A police officer passes by and does not stop a car to collect money.  I ask myself if he is even doing his job.

Now, it is silly to think this way, but I can’t help but feel as if he is doing it wrong.  I know that is not the case, but my first thought betrays reason.  Below is an excerpt of what I have been referring to:

There is a thing about being so close to something that one does not see it anymore. Anthropologists normally refer to it as going native. You have gone native when you no longer see the obvious things anymore, when the things that an outsider notices stares you in the face but you are no longer able to see them. This is usually because you have developed a blind spot for them, and they have become normal, almost natural.

There is also the other kind of blind spot, the kind that comes from being native. Anthropologists know about that too very well. Since we study people, we know that studying people of ones kind comes with the added requirement of being able to stand back and look critically in order to see things that would be obvious to foreigners, but that are not obvious to the native.