People are often at their most generous when giving to emergency appeals. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami attracted Australian public donations in excess of $260 million.[1] Governments also pledge the greatest humanitarian assistance packages during these emergency situations.

There are practical problems with the distribution of such large amounts of funds to a small number of people in a short period of time. For example, only around 20% of the Australian Government’s $1 billion Boxing Day Tsunami package went directly to localities affected by the disaster.[2]  Common issues include:

  • loss of donations through corruption;
  • misspending on areas that are not of prime concern or sensitive to the needs of affected communities at the time; and,
  • late arrival of assistance.

Government humanitarian aid may be used to inflate their Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures or repackage existing aid as new aid money. For example, half of the $1 billion Australian Government Tsunami relief package was not in the form of grants, but loans.[3]

              Check out this article on Australia’s aid for the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami

NGOs deliver humanitarian assistance and services more directly but still experience problems:

  • The donation of material goods can be problematic as they are difficult to transport and in the case of clothing can be climatically and culturally inappropriate.
  • Humanitarian aid funds have traditionally only funded short-term emergency relief rather than longer-term disaster prevention strategies.

Humanitarian aid is most effective when local communities, local NGOs and grassroots organisations are primarily responsible for coordinating and conducting needs assessments in their respective areas. The expertise and knowledge of these individuals and groups must be utilised to ensure aid activities directly reflect the requirements and desires of the communities they represent. Unfortunately, these groups are frequently overlooked.


Next page

Last updated 4 November 2010





[1] ACFID in AID/WATCH, Australian Aid: The Boomerang Effect, 2005

[2] AusAID, Annual Report, 2007

[3] AID/WATCH, International Response to the Indian Ocean Disaster: a donor analysis focus on Australia, 2005