The destruction caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) in the city of Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan: Why Early Money is Smart Money

When a disaster as devastating as Typhoon Haiyan strikes, figuring out how to help can be overwhelming and confusing. Is it best to give money, clothes or food? Should you donate now, or wait until there's more information about the damage?

In the days and weeks right after a disaster, cash donations are the most effective way to help. When the situation on the ground changes hour by hour, day by day, cash donations help organizations like UNICEF and its partners adapt and respond as effectively as possible.

“In an emergency of this scale, early cash donations play a big role in immediate disaster relief,” says Ed Lloyd, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “Any donation to the U.S. Fund gets transferred almost immediately to UNICEF’s teams on the ground.”

UNICEF and most humanitarian agencies do not accept clothes, food or other donated items because effective help depends on efficient logistics and a coordinated supply. Donated items can create logistical bottlenecks, especially in complex emergencies like in the Philippines.

The most effective way to support an emergency relief effort is to make a monetary donation to help cover its cost. Cash donations allow organizations like UNICEF to purchase emergency supplies, often locally, as needed and as appropriate.

For example, access to clean water is  a significant concern in the areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan. In addition to sending supplies from its warehouse in Copenhagen – including over 1,200 water quality testing kits and 20 generators to power water treatment plants – UNICEF is purchasing 10,000 water kits and 10,500 family water kits locally, as well as water tablets for 6.3 million liters of water.

UNICEF has decades of experience responding to emergencies, but it can’t predict exactly how a disaster will unfold, especially one as immensely destructive as Haiyan. No emergency is the same, and cash donations ensure that lifesaving interventions are targeted appropriately.

Early cash donations are also especially helpful because they help prevent problems before they arise. A child who is vaccinated immediately after a disaster is less likely to contract tetanus in a high-risk environment. A family that receives clean water and sanitation equipment within days of a storm is less likely to confront diarrhea, which is a leading cause of death in children under five.

Private cash donations—both large and small—play a big part in responding to emergencies and providing immediate disaster relief. “Every little bit counts,” explains Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs, on Reddit. “In the case of the tsunami response and the Horn of Africa drought response, private donations were key to supporting the response and made up 30 percent of all funds received.”

After the early stages of emergency relief, UNICEF is involved in longer-term recovery programs. In the aftermath of Haiyan, this will include training thousands of teachers and day care workers in how to use play and artwork to help children overcome the trauma they have experienced. Every dollar counts.

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