Sunday, January 17, 2010

Helping Haiti

Everyone seems to be texting "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross (which my mom connects to Jesus). Everyone, that is, except Mickey Kaus, who makes a point of saying he doesn't trust the Red Cross and is donating to Partners in Health.

I don't share Kaus's anti-Red Cross sentiment, but his remark did get me thinking about where I should donate. Then I realized I had already donated to Doctors Without Borders' aid to Haiti without knowing it, since I opted for a fixed amount of my paycheck to go to that organization. "Our immediate response in the first hours following the disaster in Haiti," says the organization, "was only possible because of private unrestricted donations from around the world received before the earthquake struck." You can donate to them through this link.

Doctors Without Borders (a.k.a. Medicins sans Frontieres) is urgently trying to overcome numerous logistical hurdles to offering help. Even just showing up in Port-au-Prince is a huge challenge for all the organizations trying to do so. Meanwhile, the most useful thing for random Americans to do, as former president George W. Bush said (see embedded video at the end of this post), isn't to try to send blankets or water and hope that they get to the people who need them. The best we can do is to send lots of money to the aid workers who are on the ground in Haiti (or at least trying to get there) and who understand the details of what needs to be done. I can't figure out how Doctors Without Borders can get all the necessary supplies, workers, and inflatable hospitals where they need to be; the best I can do is send them some of my money so that they're better equipped to do this hard work. It's easy to get a warm feeling from imagining you're directly giving people food and water and blankets, but do I know how to prioritize the people who need caesarian sections and amputations? Of course not. As much as some people might scoff at "throwing money at a problem," Bush is correct to point out that that's exactly what we need to do now. (It's what often needs to be done -- not just for Haiti or natural disasters but to deal with all sorts of problems -- since money allows trained personnel to apply their expertise to a distinctive, complex set of challenges.)

Doctors Without Borders also notes that donations to them don't just go to the banner-headline disaster in Haiti but also to humanitarian crises that the Western media doesn't pay as much attention to.

Again, you can donate to Doctors Without Borders here.