It’s like clockwork; the press reports a disaster – natural or man-made – and millions of dollars pour into the coffers of the American Red Cross (ARC).  Usually, they don’t even have to ask for the donations.  A sympathetic public gives.  Rightly or wrongly, the ARC’s reputation precedes them.
Now, as the East Africa/Cyclone Idai recovery is picking up steam, many people are questioning the wisdom of the conventional wisdom. In particular they criticize the financial policies of the humanitarian behemoth and express concerns that overhead, public relations, sub-contracting, and other wasteful expenditures may be robbing disaster victims of needed assistance.
The concerned and politically-conscious African, Afro-American, or West Indian will undoubtedly be a generous donor to the recovery/rebuilding effort.  But while we’re generous, we must also give through the proper channels.  The ARC shouldn’t be our “default” choice for giving.
The under-reported story of the ARC’s sticky fingers – and its dubious accounting and transparency efforts date to at least 2010, when the Haitian earthquake was the first in a string of natural disasters that complicated the pre-existing political instability on the island.
Although more than $500 million was collected, and earmarked for Haiti only, CNN,
in a 2015 follow-up story could find no evidence of where the money went. According to the story:

The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposal put the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013. None of that ever happened

ARC claimed to have “provided housing for 130,000 people.  However, media reports could only document 6 permanent homes built.  None of the ARC officials had a reasonable explanation of where the remaining funds had gone.  Perhaps they counted the thousands of canvas cots put up in the temporary tent cities that were constructed.
Senator Charles Grassley, in his 2016 report to the Judiciary and Finance committees felt that ARC was more effective on limiting the scope of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit than they were in explaining where the missing funds were spent.
Similar incompetence was discovered in news reports covering ARC efforts during super-storm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. According to ARC’s own 2012 internal reports, relief decisions were “politically driven.” Among the details,
“Supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen.”
This while while needy victims were ignored.  Other needed equipment was diverted from relief efforts – to serve as back drops for televised press conferences.
ARC has for too long been falsely presented as the state of the art in disaster relief.  We have to identify alternatives, domestic and foreign, that can serve suffering populations without the overhead charges – and the disrespect for local decision making abilities.
And in the longer term, when will diaspora Africans develop and expand their own institutions and infrastructures for helping our African cousins?


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