Earthquake aid is effective only if it reaches the right people

While support after disasters often goes to those who need it, there are instances of abuse

Collection of humanitarian aid in Al Quoz, Dubai for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The scenes from the UAE this week of volunteers working around the clock to organise, pack and ship public donations for the victims of the Turkey and Syria earthquake reveal the visceral need most people experience to help fellow human beings in distress.

In any crisis, with a huge outpouring of goodwill comes a responsibility to make sure aid is going to the right place and getting to the right people. While aid often goes to those who need it, there are instances of abuse. Where there is little scrutiny, there is a danger of essential support falling into the wrong hands or donations being sent to fraudsters who emerge to prey upon people’s generosity at times like these.

Like many countries, the UAE has strict laws governing donations and fundraising, and advises people to make sure they know where their money is going to. Unless a person or community group has permission from a licensed charity, such as the Emirates Red Crescent or Dar Al Ber Society, asking for donations can be an offence.

This kind of rigour will be needed internationally in the days, weeks and months ahead. The survivors of the earthquake badly need food, medicine, warm clothing and heating but in the longer term, they will require help to rebuild and this will need a sustained commitment from international donors.

Such a commitment will translate into large amounts of money, equipment and supplies – all requiring close oversight. Thousands of people have been left destitute – in the case of Turkey’s Syrian refugee population, twice or even three times so – and they will not look kindly upon any kind of mismanagement or diversion of life-saving aid.

But what this week has also revealed is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. In the hours after the earthquake, there was a rapid mobilisation of international aid, logistical hurdles were overcome, customs checks were cleared and flights carrying supplies and rescue teams from around the world took off. And while too many areas remain hard to reach, this mobilisation was important.

This unity of purpose needs to be sustained, both to prevent any lapse into self-interest and to set aside political divisions that could impede the vital work of getting earthquake survivors back on their feet.

It can be done. The world is trying to work together to find a way through climate change and the Covid pandemic, and our technology and communications are more advanced than ever. We already work together on critical networks such as international aviation, getting millions of people and pieces of cargo safely from A to B every day. The transnational police force Interpol, another example of important international co-operation, met in Abu Dhabi this week.

The aftermath of the earthquakes presents the world with a challenge – how to work together in a better way and how to apply those lessons to the other, more slow-moving crises that we face, such as global warming or another pandemic.

International co-operation is not perfect, nor will it ever be. Interoperability is all too rare. There will always be profiteers or those who try to make a quick buck from other people’s misery. Countries will have competing agendas, and some level of corruption is always inescapable in any society. Vigilance will always be required.

But if the scenes of cars and lorries queuing out of sight at aid collection points in Abu Dhabi and Dubai this week teach us anything, it is that the desire to take action and to help can trump whatever barriers are put in its way.

Published: February 10, 2023, 3:00 AM