If you want to help Ukraine, send cash, not things.
After seeing the news of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, you might be tempted to help by shipping food, tents, water bottles, toys, or other physical things to the country. But, as well-intentioned as donated goods may be, they often do more harm than good. When a highly publicized disaster strikes, well-meaning people send tons of unsolicited donations to the affected area—frequently, without the right customs paperwork or a specific recipient in mind. All that unsolicited stuff winds up piling up on airport tarmacs and in warehouses, clogging humanitarian supply chains and driving up the price of transportation.
“The worst thing you can do is consume valuable transportation resources—you know, planes, trains, and automobiles—with goods that can’t actually be received in that country,” said Jarrod Goentzel, director of the MIT Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab. “The best you can do is give an unrestricted gift to organizations that have connections with local NGOs.” (We’ve even put together a list of several Ukraine aid groups you might consider.)
Disaster zones and war-torn regions do need things. But it’s better to let local aid groups and non-profits figure out what people in an affected community need most right away, says Goentzel. And if they have cash to spend and unclogged supply chains to work with, aid groups can buy those goods nearby and quickly import and distribute them.
Unsolicited humanitarian aid clogs up warehouses
What happens to all those unsolicited gifts? They usually wind up forgotten in a warehouse or burned on a tarmac. “If you talk to people on the UN logistics team, they can tell you about all the cargo they’ve had to destroy at ocean terminals and air terminals that came in and wasn’t actually designated for anybody,” said Dave Hartman, who heads humanitarian aid efforts at the logistics company Flexport.
After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut in 2012, donors sent thousands of teddy bears to the families of children at the school. “We got 69,000 teddy bears for a town of 20,000 people,” recalls Hartman, who was a social media manager for the NGO Save The Children at the time. “I have one of those bears because they were like, ‘We don’t know what to do with these anymore. We’re just getting warehouses full of teddy bears.’”
If you care about Ukraine, Hartman says, you’ll keep humanitarian supply chains clear for professional aid groups. “If we do that, then aid workers can do their jobs and help as many people as they can,” he said.