The Dangers of Disaster Relief: Holding Organizations Accountable in the Wake of a Natural Disaster

By: Scott Miller and Dr. Bertrhude Albert


This post first appeared on P4H Global’s Redefining Aid blog.


In recent days, we watched as a category 5 hurricane made landfall on the Bahamas and left behind a trail of devastation. In the immediate aftermath, we know that at least seven people were killed, and that number is likely to rise [1].


In the wake of every natural disaster, communities around the world are desperate to help those affected. Currently, thousands of humanitarian workers are flooding into the Bahamas to provide critical food, shelter and medical help to those in need. While this type of relief can be life-saving immediately following a disaster, it often leaves behind a second trail of devastation. If we are not careful about how we approach relief in the wake of a natural disaster, we risk damaging the affected communities for years to come.


In a previous post, we discussed how organizations have no skin in the game, and why this often leads to thriving nonprofits and crippled communities. In the wake of a natural disaster, relief organizations face the same dilemma — the long-term best interest of a community is often very different from the short-term best interest of the organization.


With this in mind, how can we support relief efforts after a natural disaster while ensuring that the affected communities are not harmed? Whether you’re donating $5 or $500,000 to Bahamian relief efforts you have the right to know the answer to a few key questions. Even if we don’t ask every question, for the sake of the survivors, for the sake of those we are trying to help, we have to ask something to hold relief organizations accountable during this season.


Here are 7 questions we typically ask before donating to relief efforts:


1. Who is being helped on the ground and why did we select this community?


2. For every dollar I donate, how much is going to go towards direct relief efforts? How much will go towards indirect relief efforts? And how much towards administrative/fundraising costs?


3. Who is your local contact on the ground? How did you select them?


4. How are local leaders integrated in the decision-making process for these efforts?


5. What is your long-term development plan for the community after we’ve provided relief, if any?


6. After this relief season, may I see a report detailing the revenue and expenses of your relief efforts?


7. How will you evaluate the impact of your relief efforts and where will the results be published?



Published by Scott Miller

Scott is currently earning his PhD in development economics at the University of Florida. He has worked for various non-profits and international organizations, including USAID. Scott has worked on a number of research projects around the world, including projects in Haiti, Nepal and Brazil.

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