Edited Version of October 4, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Library Presentation

"In-kind Humanitarian Donations"

Monica Zaccarelli Davoli
Pan American Health Organization

Amy Sebring
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the October 4, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.

[Opening / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library! Our topic today is "In-kind Humanitarian Donations."

We are pleased to introduce our presenter, Monica Zaccarelli Davoli, who joined the Emergency Preparedness Program at the Pan American Health Organization last January. Her previous experience includes working as Mission Administrator and public health adviser with Doctors Without Borders in Azerbaijan. Welcome Monica, and thank you for taking time to be with us today.


Monica Zaccarelli: Thanks, Amy. We will be exchanging experiences and information on in-kind donations. The problem of inappropriate in-kind donations persists. Recent disasters such as the earthquake in Turkey and the floods in Venezuela and Mozambique once again exposed the problem. The governments of these countries as well as the humanitarian NGOs, were faced with the traditional and time-consuming chores of sorting out medicine, food and clothes sent in boxes, plastic bags and paper parcels with no label or list of contents.

Many of us are familiar with tragic-comic examples of unsolicited goods that are not needed, requested, useful or wanted: winter clothes for tropical countries, products specifications written in a language not understood by the recipients, rice with different cooking time all mixed together, etc. In fact, a loan of US $20 million to the Bosnian Government was needed just to destroy the inappropriate drugs the country received as donations.

Significant efforts have taken place in the last decades to tackle inappropriate in-kind donations. Just to mention a few:

• the World Health Organization (WHO) has published guidelines for drug donations <http://www.who.int/medicines/docs/edm-guidelines.html> and <http://who.int/medicines/docs/pagespublications/suppypub.htm>

• PAHO's guidelines on providing effective aid<>.

• Wemos Foundation <http://www.drugdonations.org> an initiative of a NGO-consortium that offers appropriate information about issues relating to the quality of drug donations.

Besides, all the important NGOs and UN agencies have policies and documents written with recommendations, redirecting pledges or encouraging certain donations. However, as I said in the beginning, inappropriate in-kind donations are still a significant problem that can add to difficulties of responding to the needs of disaster victims. It is time for the international community to do something about this.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) believes a preventive approach to the problem can mitigate its effect and that an efficient way of approaching a generous but ill-informed public of the donor countries is through a massive education campaign.

The campaign should first, aim to inform the public on the actual needs of disaster victims, to instruct on the unintended consequences of some donations and to give examples of successful contributions. Although there is consensus that the best donation is cash, this message is not enough anymore. No longer is it acceptable to simply say what is not needed. We must say what is needed, and why it is needed. The public needs to be given the elements to make an informed choice.

Second, the right time to inform the public about the negative impact of neighborhood collections is not when disaster strikes and people are anxiously seeking transportation for the goods they have collected. The time is before the disaster. Therefore, the challenge for this campaign is to change behavior, to change attitude.

Other types of campaigns have shown us that the public responds positively to repetitive messages. After an initial intensive campaign, an annual reminder in the form of public service announcements on television, newspapers, and radios will guarantee continued success. The message on good donation practices will need to be repeated, for instance, at the onset of hurricane season or immediately after a major disaster.

So far, the concrete components of this campaign are:

• Dedicate the 2002 World Disaster Reduction Day to the topic of good donation practices and use it as a platform to launch global action.

• Develop a common message, a message that brings together the position of humanitarian organizations and local communities.

• Provide public awareness material to the mass media.

• Inform the public about the unintended consequences of certain donations and provide concrete suggestions for how they can help disaster victims.

The idea of a public campaign to educate the general public is an effort that can pull together the most different actors towards the goal of improving in-kind donations.

Besides, it is in direct agreement with the principles of the sphere project <http://sphereproject.org>, a project that aims at improving the quality of assistance provided to people affected by disasters.

Having said this, I would like to propose three questions for discussion:

1. How do you convince individuals that in the face of tragic images they are witnessing, some things are not needed?

2. How can we convert counterproductive, reactive behavior into well-informed constructive action?

3. Do you have suggestions on how to get the message out?

To finalize, PAHO has also been tackling the problem of inappropriate in-kind donations from the point of view of the countries that receive such supplies. Almost a decade ago a Supply Management System (SUMA) was developed and has been used, mainly in the countries of the Americas, to support organizations on dealing with donations. SUMA is a system that quickly identifies and assigns priority to those supplies that are urgently needed by the disaster-affected population; It offers a tool for inventory control on warehousing and distribution of supplies and can keep authorities and donors informed of exactly what has been received. The software is free of charge and can be downloaded from the following Web page: <http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net/SUMA>. It is offered to UN agencies, NGOs and governments. To this day there are around 2,500 volunteers in the Americas trained and ready to operate the system.

I will finish with this and hope to have your impressions. Thanks you for your time.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Monica. We now invite your questions/comments.


Burt Wallrich: Emergency Network Los Angeles is getting ready to print 10,000 4-panel wallet cards (Eng. & Span.) that include guidelines for donations. I will be glad to send the PageMaker file to anyone on request. Contact me at <[email protected]>.


Suzanne Brooks: I have found that one of the major sources of this problem have been the Embassies and UN Missions who find it "undiplomatic" to turn away these donations. These donations are more often than not inappropriate. They are also those most likely to get media attention.

Monica Zaccarelli: Yes, Suzanne, you are completely right. So far what we have done in PAHO was to promote workshops with embassies and with chancelleries for the countries of the Americas. We have also addressed the countries that are receiving those donations and worked with them so they are more precise on their needs. But I insist what needs to be tackled are the voluntary donations that are responding to a declaration of needs from a country but reacting to images of people in desperate conditions, those are our audience.


Cam King: Regarding your first question - is there a proactive way to involve the media? The on-site reporters tend to jump on "everything is needed" issue and look for people who will support that view. We try to get to the local media as quickly as possible.

Monica Zaccarelli: Cam, the "all is needed" approach is exactly what we need to address.


Andrew Feeney: Deputy Director NYS Emergency Management: I need a curriculum that I can use at the county level and with media groups and community organizations on a regular basis. Education is key but must be sustained.

Monica Zaccarelli: Exactly, Andrew. That is why we are arguing for a campaign that is back in air periodically.


Suzanne Brooks: In my experience, our message is not what the media wants to hear. (I have the scars to prove it!!) Only in the past few recent years have I seen good articles that address these issues.

Monica Zaccarelli: But maybe then we need to change the way we are selling our arguments. And the question is, how?


Andrew Feeney: On the media, it's not the stars we need to get to, it’s the broadcast executives, but it’s a real battle anyhow, since misery sells!


Amy Sebring: Monica, have you had the opportunity to discuss the Disaster Reduction 2000 Campaign with ISDR?

Monica Zaccarelli: We are in contact with the ISDR. The idea is that the disaster reduction day will be the launching of the campaign so we need a lot of work on defining the message and detailing it before.


Frank Kriz: I understand the need for public education but more importantly I think that the establishment of centralized control is what is needed.

Monica Zaccarelli: Frank, what do you mean by centralized control?

Amy Sebring: Frank, do you mean centralized control of collecting and disseminating the information about what is and what is not needed?

Frank Kriz: Without a central control point that can advise the public and private donators of what is really needed for a particular disaster we are only chasing our tails.

People give out of emotion, this emotion can be directed but only if we really know what is needed and have a logistical plan of how to get it where it is needed


Amy Sebring: Monica, perhaps you can tell us how this is done now usually?

Monica Zaccarelli: The organized professional NGOs have their own internal means of sending supplies. Many used to have a local interlocutor with whom they confirm what is needed. And it also serves as the distributor agency.


Amy Sebring: So there is no one official way of getting the word out now? Is that correct?

Monica Zaccarelli: In the Americas the government of the countries usually make a declaration of needs after a rapid needs assessment. But again, what we have seen is that the donations of individuals collected are the ones that take a long time to be sorted and distributed.


Roger Fritzel: Monica, you mentioned an amount of $20 million spent in Bosnia. Would you confirm that is the amount you intended to state?

Monica Zaccarelli: As far as I was informed, yes, 20 millions dollar was the value of the loan given to give a solution to the inappropriate donations.


Andrew Feeney: In NY, I use the Governor's message on getting out the word. WHO and the UN have to do more to get their word out on the massive relief they provide.


Cam King: Monica - for information - I sit on Rotary International's Rapid Response Task Force and am pushing the 28,000+ clubs world wide to accept the PAHO guidelines for all types of donations. We are making progress by having representative Rotarians from every region of the world. Through them we plan to get to their respective community level with the message.

Monica Zaccarelli: Great. I think that is very good idea we can explore!


Ray Pena: I have the same sense as Frank, but I would say it's more a matter of integration. Donors would like to know that their contribution is doing some good, that the NGOs and UN agencies are working together to meet needs and not competing among themselves for scarce resources. Potential donors need to be told (and they must be convinced) - if you give this money or these resources they will be used by these agencies to address these needs.

Monica Zaccarelli: I cannot agree more.


Frank Kriz: The American Red Cross has struggled with in-kind issues for a long time. They now have a complete program developed including training for the local level. Even with this it is not perfect but has come a long way since the debacle of Hurricane Andrew.

Monica Zaccarelli: American Red Cross is a very important partner. The American public is a significant donor. A clearinghouse approach is probably the best approach from a logistical standpoint.


Russell Coile: I thought that the SALEMDUG (State & Local Emergency Managers Data Users Group- Bill Lent) developed a comprehensive donations management system about five years ago.

Monica Zaccarelli: I do not know how they work. Thanks for the tip. I will follow up.


Suzanne Brooks: Many of the public offers are forwarded to me through various government and NGO agencies. We try to dissuade people from making these large collections by explaining the transport/distribution costs and logistics, but with corporate offers of free transport by air or sea complicate matters significantly -- Hurricane Mitch as an example! Companies were flying and shipping all kinds of donations, free of charge, with no inventories or distribution mechanism in place.

Monica Zaccarelli: Exactly and once this was in the countries, the time to sort this out and internally get to the victims was too long.


Avagene Moore: Monica, do you think the Internet provides opportunities for getting this message out, and if so, how?

Monica Zaccarelli: It does, but it reaches still, only a limited public.


Russell Coile: I believe that the UN World Food Program (Peter Casier) has a new donations management program.

Monica Zaccarelli: Yes, they do and they have been very efficient in distributing their grains. But imagine, you are in an airport in Honduras and you open a box that has no description of content and you are faced with 30 boxes of medicines, some toys and clothes. It takes a long time to sort this out and address to the people in need.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Russell. I thought you would bring up GDIN. I think this could be a good fit. Cam, next please.


Cam King: Monica - before we run out of time, could you provide your Email address?

Monica Zaccarelli: My email, <[email protected]>.


Tony Stitt: Hi Monica - to what extent do you think non-profits are in agreement about the need for a public education campaign? My informal polling has shown that some fear that such a campaign might curb donations on which they rely.

Monica Zaccarelli: I understand that Tony but our job is to show we are not against in-kind donations but we are arguing for donations that will be appreciated.

Tony Stitt: I agree totally - just wanted to point out that there will be some opposition.


Amy Sebring: Monica, does PAHO have a specific strategy for getting various groups, the media, etc. together to discuss this issue and develop the common message?

Monica Zaccarelli: We have addressed different groups and talked about it. From next year on we will probably build a more formal space for this conversation.


Andrew Feeney: The key at the grassroots is to provide alternatives to collecting so people can express community without creating problems. Fundraisers, raffles, all geared toward raising cash can be viable alternatives at the local level, if there is leadership. I have seen it happen!

Monica Zaccarelli: Do not go before giving me your email.


Burt Wallrich: Tony, I think there is full agreement among the nonprofits in NVOAD about the need for a rational policy on in-kind donations.

Tony Stitt: In our coalition (InterAction), there is no such consensus.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Perhaps this process Monica is talking about is a consensus building process. It sounds like it from what she describes. Correct, Monica?

Monica Zaccarelli: Correct, Amy.


Amy Sebring: We will have to end there. Thank you very much for being with us today, Monica, and we wish you success in your efforts. Can you stand by a moment while we take care of some announcements?

For any first-timers, we will have a text transcript posted later this afternoon, which you will be able to access from the Transcripts link on our homepage. Then next Monday we will have a reformatted transcript in both html and in Word for download.

I am VERY pleased to announce we had 3 pledgers hit the 12 month mark during September: Cam King, Daryl Spiewak, and Linda Underwood! Way to go! <//bell //bell //bell>. We will add them to our Hall of Fame, and get some certificates on their way when we get them printed!

Avagene, can you tell us what's coming up in the Virtual Forum, please?

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Monica, I personally appreciate your presentation today and wish you and PAHO the best with the campaign to educate the masses about the problems related to 'well-intended' but many times unwise donations to disaster victims.

Next week, Wednesday October 11, 12 Noon EDT, the EIIP Virtual Forum celebrates "International Day for Disaster Reduction." Nicole Appel, Awareness & Promotion Officer, for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) Secretariat will be our guest speaker. Please make your plans to participate in our third annual celebration of this day designed to focus global attention on worldwide disaster reduction.

That's all for now, Amy. Back to you.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. Thanks to all our participants today and the good questions. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are welcome to remain for informal discussion. You no longer need to use question marks.