Haitian relief, long-term

disaster relief

It’s been a little more than a month since a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, and the needs of survivors show no signs of abating.

Residents still require immediate aid such as food, water and shelter, as well as numerous big-picture items, including rehabilitative medical care, the rebuilding of infrastructure and financial stability. And while the initial outpouring of giving has been generous—aided by millions of $10 text message donations—the overall support, according to a recent Washington Post report, has not been enough.

Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy, says disaster relief goes through different phases. Initially, the focus is on basic search-and-rescue efforts. “That happens in every disaster relief,” she explains. “You get the big spike.” And now, a little more than a month after the quake, the horizon has definitely shifted outward. Rosqueta says at this point, “smart generosity” is needed.

To help people understand the tremendous scale of both the short-term and long-term relief, and answer some philanthropic queries, Rosqueta and other staff at the Center have been blogging about the earthquake in Haiti at their website, www.impact.upenn.edu. The Center’s goal is to help philanthropic donors figure out how to make the greatest social impact possible.

In the first days after the disaster, the Center provided tips on how to donate wisely to groups delivering immediate assistance to Haiti. Weeks into the relief work, the focus of the information has changed.

“Now, our work is focused less on the best way to give, and really [on] what are the ways in which anybody who wants to help can have the greatest impact,” says Rosqueta. “That’s the kind of information and guidance we’re providing.”

On Jan. 25, the Center’s blog post explained two ways philanthropists can meet both immediate and long-term relief needs: first through cash-for-work programs, which pay local people to help clean up after disasters; and secondly through microfinance banking, which ensures that Haitians have the resources to meet basic needs and inject cash into the economy, as well as increase access to capital for rebuilding.

The post also provides links to organizations engaged in these efforts.
The Center has also addressed how technology—specifically, text message donations —have helped Haitian relief efforts. A blog post from Feb. 5 details exactly how significant the text donations have been. Out of the more than $644 million that has been donated for Haiti relief, $31 million was donated to the Red Cross via text message, according to a report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Many mobile phone companies have also expedited their standard processing time for text donations, and as a result, nonprofit groups don’t have to wait until donors pay their phone bills to receive text donations.

“Because the amounts [of text message donations] are so small, people are also talking about how the scale of giving is so broad,” adds Rosqueta. “People don’t have as much to give, but they know they can give [$10]. Young people can give; it’s within their reach.”

In Haiti, Rosqueta says, the need will continue because the disaster is not simply about the damage to buildings and streets the earthquake caused. It is also about the ongoing needs of a nation struggling before the earthquake hit.

“The real 7.0 Richter Scale earthquake alone is not necessarily a disaster, but this is as much a story of poverty and what happened when a natural disaster out of folks’ control happens in a country that had so little infrastructure to begin with.”

To follow the Center’s blog posts, visit the website at www.impact.upenn.edu.

Originally published on February 18, 2010