Human impulse makes people want to lend a hand after a major disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, says Holguin-Veras, who is the director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “The motivations come from a good place,” he says. But sending stuff can lead to its own litany of problems, bottlenecking important donations and wasting the time of aid workers.
Donations can be divided into three categories: high-priority (the stuff that actually helps with an immediate need like blankets or water), low priority (stuff that could help at a later time, but isn’t needed at the moment) and no-priority (stuff that is inappropriate for the area or is expired—like the sex toys).
After most disasters, this no-priority cargo takes up 60% of space, and that can have a real impact, says Holguin-Veras. “It’s funny to talk about, but the problems this stuff can create are very real.” Getting high-priority cargo to the people who need it depends on the ability to move low-priority cargo out of the way. And that wastes time and resources.
If you’ve ever donated anything for disaster relief then you need to read this story.
Sex Toys, Winter Coats, And Spanish Flags: The Uselessness Of Post-Disaster Donations
Years of studying disaster relief has led Jose Holguin-Veras to a few simple truths about donations. While tiger costumes and sex toys aren’t going to do to much good, it makes people feel better to think they’rehelping. But they’re not—they could be doing a lot of damage.