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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sometimes it is just easier to give shoes

High level criticism has been leveled at the well meaning charities collecting used and new shoes on behalf of the victims of the Haiti earthquake. On the side of the giver it is a ‘feel good’ contribution which seems perfectly appropriate when in the safe environs of home. However landing cargo containers full of sneakers in the middle of post earthquake chaos does present unforseen problems. Many argue shoes are not in short supply and the arrival of more from overseas only undermines local markets. Sadly as witnessed in other natural catastrophes, mountains of redundant imported goods intended for the poor and sick never see the light of day. Time and time again it has been shown single-item charities which operate as a ‘stop and drop,’ i.e. existing only to collect, deliver and move on, never have the critical feedback mechanism necessary to target their goods to need. Hence much of the aid from many of the ‘in-kind (non-cash) charities’ end up discarded or used for some unintended, less important purpose. The preferred means of aid is cash-transfer programs where the money can help experienced charity and aid workers on the ground, working in conjunction with the local government, to address actual need. Most charities and governments prefer the flexibility of cash donations, allowing them to divide each dollar according to the requirements on the ground. From past experience some charities prefer donations be allowed to be sent elsewhere in the world as oversubscription to one disaster fund can cause bottlenecks. People do need to be wary when making cash donations and that their money will be put to good use. To that effect it is necessary to do a little research before choosing a charity. Sometimes it is just easier to give shoes.

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