Chile may not need or want foreign assistance
Posted on February 28, 2010 at 4:32 am
This is an edited and updated repost of a previous post. This post was updated following Chile’s request for specific international assistance on Monday.
When a disaster strikes and the news show images of people in need, its natural to want to donate. However, before giving it is important to understand that international assistance may not always be needed or welcomed by that country. Currently Chile has not requested international assistance in responding to the 8.8 magnitude earthquake.* They feel that they have the capacity meet immediate needs. Whether they decide to accept assistance in the future will depend on their assessment of the full extent of the damage. From the New York Times:
Chile’s government had not yet requested assistance. All international relief groups were on standby, and the International Federation of Red Crosses and Red Crescents said the Chilean Red Cross indicated that it did not need external assistance at this point.
* As of Monday, March 1st, Chile has requested specific help. From the New York Times:
The United Nations said Monday that Chile had made an emergency request for mobile bridges, generators, water filtration equipment, field hospitals and surgical centers to cope with the toll from the quake.
It may seem impossible that governments would not want outside assistance with photos and videos of the destruction all over the evening news. However, just because there has been a disaster does not mean that the local government and local aid organizations are not capable of reaching those in need. They may well be working as quickly as possible to do just that.
Is Assistance Needed?
After a disaster the first people to respond are those closest to the scene. This could include bystanders, neighbors, family, community groups, and local first responders such as search and rescue teams, police, fire department, hospitals, and EMT’s.
If it is beyond the local capacity to respond adequately then state/provincial level entities are deployed. This could include the national guard, police and other emergency services from throughout the state and state-wide aid organizations.
If the disaster is too large for state-wide government and regional organizations to respond adequately, then resources are sent from the national level. This could include military units, national aid organizations, and national emergency management bodies like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the US.
International assistance is generally only needed if the scale of the disaster is beyond the ability of the civil society and government agencies to respond. Because each country is responsible for the health and well-being of their citizens, it is up to each country to decide whether or not they will accept international assistance.
Is Assistance Wanted?
Even if the scope of the disaster is greater than the country’s ability to respond, there are several reasons that a government may consider refusing international assistance:
- they do not want the problems associated with the influx of assistance after a disaster
- they do not want the perception that they are unable to handle the situation themselves
- they do not want religious or cultural views brought in by foreigners
- they do not want illegal immigrants receiving assistance from international organizations
- they do not want foreigners viewing and reporting on government actions
Several countries have considered not accepting or limiting foreign assistance after a disaster
Following Hurricane Katrina the US government refused to allow in the search and rescue teams that UN OCHA (The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance) had on standby from dozens of countries around the world. I learned about this from a very irate OCHA staffer while visiting his office in Bangkok a few days later.
After the tsunami the Thai government and local aid organizations were able to handle the immediate response themselves (see IDRL Thailand study). Because of this, and because Thailand is a donor country which regularly provides relief and recovery assistance to other countries, the government did not see the need for international assistance. After continued requests to be allowed to help, the government officially permitted international assistance only related to body identification and the development of a tsunami warning system. Even with this clear signal from the Thai government, over 140 aid organizations came from other countries or were started in the wake of the tsunami.
Myanmar rejected international assistance after Cyclone Nargis. Many countries, including the US, attempted to send aid anyway. Much of this was refused entry at the ports. Four US Navy ships laden with relief supplies were turned away without have delivered their goods. The continued refusals of international assistance led to a discussion amongst the international community as to whether the “humanitarian imperative” (the concept that the need is so great that aid organizations are compelled to provide aid regardless of the situation) justified parachuting aid drops from airplanes against the government’s will. Eventually, after much negotiation, some aid was allowed (see article in HPN).
Always verify that the government has requested or is willing to receive assistance before donating to international relief efforts
Disasters are prime fundraising opportunities for aid organizations. This means that they may solicit donations even if the country does not need or want outside assistance. Before sending your donation find out what, if any, assistance the government is allowing. According to the UN News Center, Chile so far has requested the following:
- mobile bridges
- salt water purification systems
- field hospitals with surgical centers
- satellite phones
- dialysis centers
- field kitchens
- structural damage evaluation systems
Check to see if the aid organization you’re considering donating to is offering that same type of assistance. If the country is not allowing in foreign aid organizations consider finding local organizations to support.