How can you help during a disaster abroad
Canadians feel strongly about helping to support communities affected by natural disasters and other emergencies abroad.
What is the best way to help?
The best way for Canadians to help during an emergency situation is to donate money to experienced humanitarian organizations.
The benefits of cash donations
Cash donations are the fastest, most efficient way to get help to people living in a disaster zone. They allow relief agencies to purchase supplies quickly based on the specific needs of the affected population.
Cash donations allow relief agencies to purchase goods and services in the affected country or neighbouring areas to help:
- get aid to affected populations as quickly as possible, and
- support the local economy, which may have been seriously affected by the disaster
In most cases, it is more cost-effective to purchase goods locally than to airlift supplies from far away. Also, local goods can be purchased in much less time than it takes to organize the logistics of an airlift from a distant country.
Why not donate food, clothing and other goods?
There are many logistical considerations to consider before donating food, clothing and other goods in times of humanitarian crises, including:
- Relief workers on the ground can lose valuable time sorting through boxes of privately donated goods when the necessary supplies can be purchased locally and cheaply
- Food, clothing and other goods may not be appropriate for the climate or the culture of the affected population. For example, survivors may need light-weight tents in the case of a hurricane in the summer, or winterized tents in the case of an earthquake in the winter
- If goods donated by the Canadian public are not appropriate for a given crisis, they may end up not being used, which is wasteful given the cost to transport items to the affected area
- Items will be subject to the import regulations of a given country. Goods that are refused entry will clog up air and seaports and potentially delay the processing and release of essential relief supplies
- Donations of out-of-date medicine and medical supplies can do more harm than good to the health and survival of an affected population. In addition countries regulate the import of medicine; the medicines you send might be forbidden from passing through a country's customs
Be creative with donated goods
Think about how to turn clothes, toys and other goods into cash donations into cash donations. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Organize a community garage sale, auction or raffle and donate all the proceeds to a recognized relief agency. Any left-over goods can be donated to a local charity or shelter
- Use food donations to have a community potluck and have each person make a small cash donation for the food that they eat. The money can then be donated to a relief agency. If there are any non-perishable food items left over, donate them to a local soup kitchen
Considerations for people who want to volunteer in an affected country
Before volunteering your services, here is some information to consider:
- Rescue services are needed typically for a short period of time. Experienced search-and-rescue teams, often located closer than Canada to certain disaster-prone regions, can be on the ground most quickly
- The need for life-saving first aid and other immediate medical assistance is usually short-lived and can be provided by health services in the affected country or from nearby countries
- Many agencies have rosters of local and international volunteers who live near the affected area and who are able to contribute to immediate relief efforts. People with relevant field experience and language skills can navigate the situation most effectively
- Many countries require entry visas that can sometimes take weeks to obtain. In addition specific vaccinations may be required to enter certain countries
If you have skills that can be useful in a humanitarian crisis, you could approach relief organizations in advance to register as a volunteer and to get advice from them on how to prepare yourself to leave for a disaster zone at short notice.
How to get involved in Canada
Consider opportunities to get involved in your own community that can help support the needs of Canada’s crisis response:
- Get in touch with Canadian organizations that may need assistance with community events in support of disaster relief efforts
- Organize fundraising events
- Encourage friends and family to donate to reputable agencies involved in rebuilding an affected area
- Make cash donations in support of fundraising drives
Where to find information about experienced humanitarian organizations
The Government of Canada works with experienced humanitarian partners and relief agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance in affected areas.
For a list of projects profiles, per country, including executing agencies/partners with which the Government of Canada worked with in the past, see the International Development Project Browser.
For a list of registered charities to support, visit Donating to help victims of a disaster or other emergency.
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