Kevin Morales

As the push to aid in Hurricane Dorian relief efforts continues, entities such as the Cayman Islands Red Cross and Hazard Management Cayman Islands are asking the question: what if your donations do more harm than good?

“It’s estimated 60% of unsolicited goods do not get used,” Cayman Islands Red Cross’s Deputy Director Carolina Ferreira said Wednesday.

The National Trust of the Cayman Islands earlier this week posted to social media encouraging residents to drop off cash or donations to crew on the M/V John Paul DeJoria, which is docked at the South Terminal, in George Town. The ship is part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and aims to take those donations to the Bahamas.

There are dozens of examples, however, where donations go unused because they either are not needed at a particular time, cannot be shipped easily to that location, do not have a point person on the ground to distribute them or, in some cases, are not appropriate, Ferreira said.

“Donations to BVI in 2017,” she said, referring to relief efforts following Hurricane Irma, “I was there in October 2018 … and I saw the community was giving back some of the food items that were sent because they were not culturally appropriate for that community.”

Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, killing 11,000 people, according to media reports in the US. CBS News reported high heeled shoes and winter clothing as among the donated items that ultimately were left on an airport runway and prevented aircraft from landing. Indonesia’s government burned piles of used clothing following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because workers did not have time to separate clean items from soiled items, according to CBS.

“The reality is there is more to disaster response than just collecting the goods,” she said. “The needs of the community change very quickly.”

Solicited donations refer to items requested by a country’s government or emergency responders on the ground. The National Trust, for instance, listed items on its social media post they say were requested by the Bahamian government. Unsolicited donations refer to all other donations.

“Unsolicited items create havoc on the ground as organisations do not know they are coming and then have to divert manpower and equipment to collect them, and most don’t have anywhere to store them,” according to a flier posted on the Cayman Islands Red Cross’s Facebook page.

Money donated to the local Red Cross will not go through the American Red Cross and will go further as the Bahamas starts to rebuild, the flyer reads.

“That affords a level of flexibility that items don’t,” Ferreira said. “And there’s nothing more frustrating, both to vulnerable people on the ground and relief workers, [than] taking items to a community and having them turned back.”

A Butterfield Bank account has been set up for cash donations for the Red Cross’s relief efforts in the Bahamas. The account number is 1360350540060.