Thursday, September 15, 2005

First Meal

Pundits are now ready to start the blame game with a vengeance.

One of the hardest parts of relief efforts is the large amount of waste that seems to occur with such efforts. Right after the disaster, relief supplies start moving around ... only a portion of the supplies get to the front lines of the efforts. Often supplies get stuck in limbo and the well meaning efforts of the people who put together the supplies appears lost.

I think the most exciting thing about donating to efforts or volunteering time is that satisfying feeling of being the one to provide the first warm meal after days of hardship. We all want to be part of the person who saves the puppy. We have horrors of being the person left on the loading dock.

Post disaster coordination can reduce the amount of waste, but the very nature of cataclysmic events is waste. That's what Katrina did. It wasted a whole bunch of stuff. The storm and flood wasted buildings, warehouses full of food, gas tanks, cars and even precious relief supplies.

One of the really strange things that starts happening in relief efforts is that different charitable groups start competing for victims. Charities want to show there donors high profile rescues. They want success. Politicians want to be the one seen kissing the baby or doling out the first meal. There are perceived political ramifications if the Red Cross relief supplies show up before the city supplies.

People do pay attention to the brand on the donated box. A great example of controversies on branding is the emblem of the International Red Cross Red Crescent. Some people view the cross in red cross to be a religious (in this case it is not). So, some nations have adopted the crescent. To some the crescent has religious symbology, to others it has socialistic undertones to other groups it is a national symbol, so the IRIC is having to adopt a third symbol.

Who gets which victims is also a matter of controversy. Just as we direct money to the charities we wish to support, we direct victims to those charities as well. Humans are very interesting creatures. There is political dynamics to the whole charity situation.

IMHO, the worst thing that can happen is political grandstanding in times of need. The most effective leaders are those that fade into the background and concentrate on coordination during the initial phase of relief.

As much as I hope that my donations went to providing first meals. I really suspect that the supplies purchased are sitting on a dock somewhere.

One charity that I want to support in the clean up effort is Volunteers of America. VoA is often the charity of last resort. They provide services to people with chemical dependencies, and development disorders that keep them from functioning in society. VoA helps the poorest of the poor. These are the people who were homeless in New Orleans, are homeless during the relief effort and are the ones that will be homeless after the rebuilding. I like this group as they often do the less glamourous drudge work.

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