With local and international aid pouring in, there are several questions being raised about where aid will go and how people can track their donations in the Philippines. There’s an understandable wariness in light of the pork barrel scam and the discovery that billions of taxpayer’s monies went to line the pockets of a chosen few. It might be one reason Filipinos are driven to raise money themselves and figure out ways to deliver relief direct to the affected areas.
I get asked quite a bit on how donors can track their money and whether NGOs I work for or know are legitimate. It’s a bit of a lesson in frustration (The blowbacks of Napoles include the reputations of legitimate and valid NGOs). I personally would never stay in an organization that raises questions in ethics and finances but at the same time, I totally understand where donors are coming from. As a donor, you deserve to know how money is spent.
As a Response Manager for an emergency response (humanitarian lingo for a project specifically launched to respond to a disaster), I’ve quickly learned that a part of it is being immersed in budgets and figures, trying to make sure the funding we’ve gotten reaches our targets, or possibly does it one better. It’s a big responsibility juggling options and trying to figure out the most cost-effective ones. It’s like investing in the most optimal and effortless spot in the chain of recovery where you can cause the most positive change. So I’ll do my best to decode this humanitarian world of donations and interventions; trying to explain how aid is broken down into cost, how specific interventions are considered life-saving and what you should look at in choosing an institution that is most accountable, not only to you but to a wide range of people.
A caveat though! I’m speaking entirely for myself, not for others or even my own organization. This is a reference to help you decide where to donate your money and is not meant to be the end-all or be-all. It’s based on experience, observations and a lot of questions asked to technical specialists such as engineers, public health promoters and logisticians to broaden my own knowledge. And since it’s based on my knowledge, it’s centered on water, sanitation and hygiene, to which I’m most exposed to in a humanitarian response. As such, I’m no expert but my aim is just to break down how much aid costs in a way that would make regular people understand the intricacies of aid.
What sort of aid should you be looking at?
Because people in Yolanda-affected areas have lost basically everything, with destruction so complete, the most immediate needs center around the most basic of human needs: food, water and shelter. These are life-saving and without responding to these needs, we run a greater risk of making the death toll even higher. There’s only so much we can attribute to a natural disaster; what happens next and how we respond to it is on us. Hence, the acute pressure on the government, humanitarian agencies and the public are feeling now to deliver aid. The longer the delays, then the less reason we have not to blame ourselves.
Food is of utmost importance, what with markets, infrastructures and livelihoods halted indefinitely in Yolanda-affected areas. I won’t say much on this because we all know the price of food but I will give a tip that if you do give relief, then you have to think of food packs for families of 5 and 6 (a general average) x a good number of days. To put it into perspective, think about how much your family consumes over a period of a week or two and that’s basically what you should be giving. Also, think in staples because this will give the most nutrients: rice, coffee, sugar, cooking oil, salt, etc. Simple, solid food is best (let’s not get fancy!). And of course, when you do give food, think in practicalities: canned food without a can opener is a lesson in frustration.
Water is a basic need and I’ve no doubt, even from just seeing the photos and videos, that water systems were destroyed or damaged. I’ve heard that people are desperate enough to drink salty water to quench thirst and that is hard to hear because water is so basic a need. For drinking, a person needs at least 3L/day. To include bathing and cooking, water use comes out to about 15L/day per person.
For short-term fixes:
For longer-term fixes:
Aside from fixing water supply, you also have to think about clean and safe water containers. I don’t expect that people have a lot left and we shouldn’t let open buckets be a water container for drinking use (open to contaminants) nor should we let people store it in old jerry cans (I’ve seen videos of floods and seawater everywhere. And with no water, I don’t think people have been able to clean their containers, even if they HAVE containers). Water kits are an amazingly simple life-saving intervention. Generally, families should have a 10L/20L jerry can (those blue containers you see in refilling stations). We like to give the 20L jerry can per family though because a water kit should also include a purifier, like hyposol (a chemical solution) or aquatabs. These are usually placed inside clear water and left to dissolve over 30 minutes, making questionable but clear water safe for drinking. 20L jerry cans are also preferred it makes measuring hyposol easier. A good water kit would have a 20L jerry can and 3 bottles of hyposol (a bottle of hyposol being around PHP 50) which would last a family around a month, if I’m not mistaken.
It’s also good to be able to test water quality. For sure, there are sources that are contaminated. For emergencies, PML kits are good for easy and quick testing (around 24 hours time for results to come out) and cost around PHP 6,000. With health and sanitation workers being very few in affected areas right now, this is easy enough for households to use on their own.
Just as water is important, so is sanitation. To avoid the risk of water-borne diseases (and Yolanda could really cause a lot of health issues if we don’t answer to these water and sanitation needs in time!), sanitation facilities need to be considered to separate where people make waste, from their water supply.
Always to consider for sanitation facilities is that this is not the time for unisex bathrooms! Men and women should always have separate facilities, and in consideration for the protection of women and girls, bathing facilities should also have dividers. Considering the lack of power, imagine how it would feel to need to go to the bathroom in the middle of a pitch dark night. And also in deference to this, sanitation facilities shouldn’t be too far, only 50m away from shelters. You don’t need to travel to the next barangay just to pee.
Hygiene is of the utmost importance right now to lower health risks. The cost of hygiene kits depend on what exactly is inside the kit. But these should consider an average of 5-6 in a family and so should have enough to meet all the family members’ needs and for a lengthy period of time. Items that should be in a hygiene kit: toothpaste, toothbrushes, bathing and laundry soap, underwear(!), sanitary napkins, shampoo. Hairbrushes and nail clippers are also good to have. It’s also good to include potties, for families who have children, elderly or persons with disabilities to avoid them having to venture out at night.
From all the photos, it looks like almost every structure has been flattened, blew away or was swept away. And this does not bode well for survivors because rainy season has not ended and PAGASA projects about 3 more storms to come our way. An immediate need is for emergency shelter, which in this case would mean tents, plastic sheeting or tarpaulins. But given the strength of rains here, you have to ensure it’s of an appropriate thickness or the next thing you know, the rain just might drill holes into the sheeting and it’s raining on people. International standards peg emergency shelter to allocate 3.5m per person. Why? Well, not only for comfortable living space but imagine lying down and your feet or head are sticking out because you didn’t get enough material. I don’t know how much this costs but I do know that tarpaulins here in the Philippines are a bit on the thin side so if you do give, it’s best to double up on it so you can add to the thickness.
Aside from actual shelter, household items are also good. This means clothing, bedding and blankets. I’ve read a news report about a woman giving birth on a wooden board and my heart just cringed in horror. The aim is to still be able to meet the needs of people but also give them their right to dignity. You can give them shelter and food, but if they don’t have blankets or a mat to sleep on, or kitchen utensils, dinnerware and cookware to eat with, then it gets tricky. A pot or kettle are good additions to boil water for drinking. Ideally, if you wish to donate non-food items, I do hope that you consider the needs of women, children, elderly, etc. An item that has given the most joy and feedback is underwear specific to gender: briefs and panties! Also think of giving more than one set... if we find it difficult to stay in our clothes more than one day, we should give the same regard. Consider slippers as well. With all the accounts of people floating in the sea for hours in Yolanda’s aftermath, I don’t imagine that I’d be able to keep my shoes on either. Lastly, mosquito nets are also good because I believe the area has incidences of malaria as well. At the very least, we don’t need dengue to affect already weakened constitutions of survivors.
Also worth noting the need for stoves. Up to a certain point, people do get exhausted with relief and begin wanting to supply food for themselves, for variety and nutrition. Giving them this gives them options, and that options is a good step towards providing a right to life with dignity.
What sort of organization should you be looking at?
Aside from looking at organizations who can provide longer-term needs quickly like the ones I mentioned above, you should also look at track record and competency. It’s definitely fantastic if they work in adherence to internationally accepted standards like Sphere standards (which I’ve incorporated above -- but I hope it just comes out as common sense! These standards work because they are practical).
For me and many, many people in the humanitarian field, accountability is just as important, and to many stakeholders. Look for an organization who:
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.