Posted by Tim on August 30th, 2010
There can be few in the West who have not heard terrible stories, and seen distressing photos, of the devastation wrought in recent weeks by the floods in Pakistan following torrential rain over the last few weeks. Although deaths so far have been relatively few, some 25% of the country is, or has been under water. Latest estimates suggest that 20 million people have been affected, with entire communities being evacuated.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described it as a ‘tsunami in slow motion’, meaning that the destruction is as great as the 2004 tsunami, though there is no cataclysmic loss of life – yet. An even greater humanitarian crisis is round the corner, as the floods have destroyed crops, polluted water supplies, and displaced key medical personnel. Millions of refugees are at risk of dying of hunger, thirst and disease.
Yet despite extensive media coverage, there has been an initially disappointing response to appeals for aid from governments, aid agencies and individuals alike. It has been suggested that following a number of other disasters, there is significant donor fatigue. Many agencies budget for one disaster a year, and have already committed a lot of their reserves in Haiti. And governments, particularly western ones faced with the need to cut costs, can be reluctant to spend on aid while they are reducing services to their own electorate. Fear that funds for emergency aid can be lost through incompetence or corruption can curb people’s generosity.
In such circumstances it is even more important that Christians give generously. But how do we give wisely? Here are some suggestions.
Give prayerfully. Don’t just give your money, intercede for the victims, the relief workers, and the government agencies involved. Seek God’s guidance as you make decisions.
Give to people who have agents in the locality. Many UK aid agencies work through local partners. They know the people and the customs and can often get access where outsiders can’t. This also provides local employment and it’s easier to get a local to the scene than to fly someone out from Europe. If you know people who work in that community, ask if you can give money directly to them.
Give to reputable organisations. The big names are audited and are liable to scrutiny. That helps to keep them accountable. An ad hoc organisation which has sprung up to deal with a particular crisis may be enthusiastic but might not have the level of expertise and transparency that an established organisation has.
Give to overtly Christian organisations. The Christian charities vary on a spectrum from those who overtly link aid with their Christian identity to ones which are run by Christians without making a public display of their beliefs. Whichever you choose, they are likely to share your personal ethos of giving help because Jesus cares about the suffering.
Give to agencies with a lower percentage of admin costs. UK law requires funds designated to a particular disaster to go 100% to that appeal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all your money will buy clean water or high-energy biscuits, as there are inevitably transport, financial and personnel costs in delivering these. But the most efficient agencies will manage down those costs and make the percentage available to you if you ask.
Whatever decision you make, please give to the Pakistan appeal as you would like people to give to you if such a disaster took place in your country (Luke 6:31).