One of the strongest typhoons in recent memory rocked the Philippines, destroying numerous cities and villages, costing thousands of lives, and destroying major agricultural areas. As the world rushes to send relief, however, some fear that international aid could be squandered, and possibly do more harm than good. Given the result of the massive but failed aid effort in Haiti, it’s important to examine how a repeat can be avoided.
Relief efforts can make matters worse if handled badly
Helping people is certainly a noble cause, but often those with the best intentions only end up making matters worse. In Haiti, a massive rush to inject aid without first ensuring that the proper infrastructure was set up to actually distribute aid resulted in billions of dollars worth of resources being squandered. At the same time, UN personnel introduced cholera to the country, and made numerous other missteps. Further, many aid organizations simply did not distribute cash earmarked for Haiti, instead spending the money elsewhere.
The U.S. military, China, and now Japan have all sent personnel to the Philippines. U.S. military personnel were among the first international relief workers on the ground, and quickly distributed U.S. AID goods to Filipinos in devastated areas. The United States has also pledged millions of dollars in financial support and in the months to come, the nation will likely up its donations as new needs are identified.
China, after rather lengthy discussions with a suspicious Filipino government, has sent personnel and its “Peace Ark”, a state-of-the-art hospital ship, is currently en route. Still, China has been heavily criticized for its “paltry” donations. So far, other ASEAN nations, Japan, and the United States have all been far more generous in their assistance. This comes despite the massive amount of funds in China’s sovereign wealth funds.
Japan, meanwhile, has pledged millions of dollars in financial support and is even sending Japanese troops to help with rescue and cleanup efforts. While this may not seem like a big deal for most countries, the Japanese military has rarely operated outside of its national territories following their loss in World War II. Sending troops to the Philippines hints at the growing ambition to project power in the region.
Haiti was a massive failure on many levels
Still, some are wondering if this crisis will simply be a repeat of the Haitian earthquake, which saw billions of dollars donated but little accomplished. Haitians remain as poor as ever and the country is struggling to recover even today. Given that as much as 15 billion dollars worth of aid was donated to the small and impoverished nation, yet the country still remains deep in poverty and struggling to recover, it’s fair to wonder what good international aid will do.
While Haiti was a massive failure on many levels, there is hope that the world can learn from the past mistakes. Experts are now calling for a more transparent aid distribution process to ensure that money is not being siphoned away. Experts are also urging aid agencies to focus on providing long-term relief, not just addressing emergency issues.
Transparency will be one of the most important obstacles in the effort to aid the Philippines. People most often donate their money to international organizations, such as the Red Cross or one of the various UN Agencies. Unfortunately, transparency levels in these organizations can be low and often money donated for specific crises gets directed elsewhere. These organizations have been heavily criticized in the years following Haiti, but little has been done to increase transparency.
In fact, the Huffington Post found that although Americans donated a whopping $1.4 billion dollars in aid to Haiti, only 38% actually reached the country. If the world is to avoid another Haiti, then it must ensure that money actually reaches the country and then is spent transparently. In order to ensure that funds actually reach devastated countries, it is essential to ensure that aid organizations actually spend the funds to help the people of the Philippines.