By Vicky Anscombe on 08 May 2015

Natural disasters are beyond horrifying, and when they hit, we’re all affected. We all want to help as much as we can, either by donating to charities providing help, flying to the stricken country to assist, or organising fundraisers for the cause.

However, what if it’s a treasured holiday destination which has been affected - a place you’ve lived in, and learned to love? A place where the locals knew you, you learned a bit of the language, and you’ve always considered a second home?

A lot of our favourite travel destinations have been devastated by natural disasters; tsunamis in Thailand, earthquakes in Japan and cyclones in Vanuatu to name just a few. We all feel helpless when disaster strikes, but how can we make a difference?

Here’s how to help your favourite destination to get back on its feet.

  • Donate, but do your homework. International charities are great, but the organisations making the biggest impact are those that already have people on the ground in the country which has been affected, and have built good relationships with the government and community. How can you be sure where your money’s going? Unless you do your homework, you can’t. The best charities keep administrative costs low to so that most of the donated funds go directly those in need. The worst ones don’t. Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
  • Tom Perry from CARE Australia elaborates. “As a general rule, the single best way to contribute to the response to a major emergency, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, or Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, is through a cash donation, or even by holding fundraising activities and events to raise money as a group,” he says. “It’s the best way to get supplies as quickly and efficiently as possible to those that need them the most. It means the majority of supplies and resources can be sourced locally, which both supports the local economy at a time when it needs strong support, and also helps to prevent items getting clogged up in customs processes and being potentially subject to import charges.”
  • Kate Moore from UNICEF agrees. “The most important thing you can do is make a donation,” she says. “UNICEF and other humanitarian aid agencies do have supplies pre-positioned for a response, and often already work in the affected country, so are familiar with the likely impact and the need. But these resources dwindle quickly and support is always needed immediately to reduce the risk to disease and help give the physical and emotional support children need to be healthy and safe. Also - fundraise. Get your family, friends, workplace and wider community together to support the relief effort. While it’s possible to be generous as an individual, we often want to give more. Bringing people together over a dinner, movie night, cake stall or inter-work sporting event can help people contribute to the relief efforts, share their experiences of the country affected and reaffirm their desire to help.”
  • It sounds very cynical, but beware of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the much-needed infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people. Don’t forget that lots of charities will let you choose where your money goes - be that medical supplies, food, and supplies for shelter.
  • Even if you knew the people and the area well, don’t just jump on a flight and make your way to the area, thinking you can just dive in. You can’t. Relief workers don’t work in teams of one; you’ll need to work with volunteer organisations and the appropriate people in order to make your time and effort count. Going ahead with your own plans could cause more harm than good.
  • Steer clear of donating physical items! Even if your heavy parcel does make it to the affected area (postal services may be cut off), there may not be anyone at the other end to make sure it gets to people in need. Charities that do have the resources and people to effectively hand out aid generally already have relationships with companies that provide water, food and clothing
  • Don’t forget that when the journalists pack up and go home and the relief work’s underway, there’s still so much more to be done. Recovering from a natural disaster takes years, and your money’s still needed even when things have calmed down. To make a real difference, consider repeating your donation at the end of the year, and beyond.
  • Finally, do your research and find big companies that will match your donation dollar for dollar. Facebook’s currently running a campaign to match up to $2 million in donations to the International Medical Corps, which is providing assistance in Nepal, so you can effectively double your donation if you hunt about. Also, consider giving donation matching sites like GiveMatcher a go; they support a number of Australian charities with international operations.

Image credit: Flickr and Sharada Prasad CS

← Five things we wish we’d known before our first big trip overseas

Travel Blogger Interviews →