Afghanistan: How to provide effective emergency assistance

By Katie Boswell 18 August 2021 3 minute read

As the western world watches Afghanistan slide into Taliban control, there is a pressing need for emergency relief. In the chaos many people, both professional funders and individuals looking to make a donation, are asking how they can support the relief effort. How can they, what are the risks and what will make a difference?

An estimated 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021. Emergency assistance is often hindered by some obvious challenges, such as a physical distance from the site of the emergency, the complexity of the unfolding events, the large number of organisations looking to respond to those events, and the need for decisions to be made quickly.

Of course, every crisis has its own set of specific circumstances and features, but below are two key guiding principles behind supporting an effective emergency response.

These principles can be applied to large or small donations and will be applicable to situations beyond the one currently unfolding in Afghanistan. They are therefore quite broad, and they don’t guarantee that a donation will be used well, but in these uncertain moments they can help maximise the chances that it will.

1. Understand the risk and your own appetite for it

The main risk in this type of situation is that your donation is not used effectively, or worse it is misused or misappropriated. This is in fact a risk with any donation, but in emergency circumstances donors particularly need to decide what risks they are comfortable with.

There are some general checks that you can do on an organisation yourself which should increase your confidence. If the organisation claims to be a UK registered charity, check their charity number against the Charity Commission database. Check the organisation’s website to get a sense of what experience they have. For further details on their work and finances, you can read their annual report, which should be published on their website.

Of course, in this situation there will be many organisations that do not have any of these things. With the rise of crowdfunding and direct donations online, donors can support a wider range of organisations than ever before.

Many local groups may have a better on the ground understanding than the more ‘official’ multinational charities. However, it can be difficult for donors to ascertain whether organisations are truly local or legitimate. Online searches may help here. In the end, you may decide that the value of your donation at this critical time outweighs the risk of it being diverted.

Donors from the UK also have to contend with rules around sending money overseas. Depending on the recipient country, there may be laws in place barring money transfers to protect against the funding of terrorism and to uphold economic sanctions. This is unlikely to apply to individuals but it is worth checking in your jurisdiction—especially if you are making a large donation.

2. Donate in a way that makes a difference

If donating to a UK registered charity, it is important to try and understand what connection they have to the crisis, to the region, and if their decision-making is informed by people on the ground with a good understanding of what is going on. You want to know that your donation is going to make a difference.

When crises occur, there are also often experts in disaster relief operating on the ground. They will likely have a better idea of what is needed than you do, so check to see what organisations like the Red Cross / Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières, UK for UNHCR, Islamic Relief UK and International Rescue Committee are suggesting and consider giving them an unrestricted donation which they can spend on whatever is needed in the crisis zone.

Another emergency response is to support organisations domestically that advocate for people’s rights. In this situation, this could be organisations that support refugees to build new lives in the UK, organisations that support women and girls, and organisations that seek to influence government policy on Afghanistan and its people. For example, Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Positive Action in Housing, Safe Passage, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), and Praxis. Our paper from 2016 describes the landscape of the refugee and asylum charity sector in the UK. It is designed to be of particular use for those interested in funding organisations working in this area.

When it comes to your actual donation, you should give money rather than goods. Clothes and food, also known as in-kind donations, are costly to sort and ship. Organisations will often be able to buy goods at lower prices in the region through donated funds. And finally, it is important to remember that costs are incurred for every donation made, for example bank processing costs or organisational administrative costs. It is therefore best to make one larger donation rather than several smaller ones.

In complex situations such as these there are no guarantees about the impact that any donation will make. But making a conscious, well thought through decision gives your donation the best chance of making a difference to the people affected.

As the western world watches Afghanistan slide into Taliban control, there is a pressing need for emergency relief. @NPCthinks shares two guiding principles behind supporting an effective emergency response: Click To Tweet