I am a regular financial supporter of Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia (MSF), and today I received their monthly newsletter and activity report in the mail.
I read with interest the editorial by Pilippe Couturier, the Executive Director of MSF, entitled “Why did we have to suspend our emergency fundraising appeal for the survivors of the tsunami ?”.
I remember back when disaster relief donations started flooding in, and after only a few days, MSF made the very controversial decision to say “NO” to more money. How could this be ? An aid agency refusing to take money ? Unheard of !
Apparently they were widely criticised by the pubic and by the media – which disappoints me, as it shows a lack of understanding about what MSF stand for.
In essence, MSF are a purely humanitarian organisation, they primarily provide first-aid and ongoing medical support, along with other health related logistical support (particularly in areas such as securing supplies of fresh water). Apparently, MSF had very quickly identified what resources they could bring to bear to fulfil their mission, and how much it would cost to execute their operation – and with the generosity of donors, those costs were met very quickly.
Because of the nature of the work MSF do, just throwing more money at the problem does not make it go away, so once their costs were covered, any extra money would not be able to be utilised to assist the victims of the tsunami.
Sure, more money could always be used in other areas of the world – and there is indeed so much work to be done elsewhere. But, to take money people were willingly donating for tsunami relief and just add it to the general operating account for their other work – would just be wrong. MSF take a very strong stand on this. Their argument seems to be that if someone is willing to donate money to help tsunami victims, and MSF cannot utilise that money for that particular cause, then they would rather the money be donated to another organisation that can use it, rather than misleading the donors by using it elsewhere.
I respect that stance, and praise MSF for their integrity. I only wish more charitable organisations were as honest with their donors about the use of the money being given.
There is an article on their website about this issue – Medicines Sans Frontieres clarifies donations for Asian tsunami disaster relief
All that being said, when you read the MSF annual activity report – an 80 page book describing many of the operations around the world and description of costs and other financial statements, you see just how enormous their task is on a worldwide basis. Not to minimse the tragedy or devastation of the Asian tsunami, but there are areas all around the world where thousands upon thousands of people are dying every year from treatable diseases and medical problems. Many of these areas are essentially “disaster areas” too, but with little international media attention, and without the excitement of “killer waves” that make for great television journalism, most of these other disasters go unreported and unsupported. I find most people just tend to live in ignorance of many of the other problems around the world – problems that can be helped with some simple medical aid.
I was amazed at the willingness of people to donate generously for such things as the Asian tsunami – the kinds of money mentioned in the media are fantastic and will make such a difference to those people recovering from the devastation (although I’m sure that much, much more support is still needed) … however, I challenge people to also consider those people in other, less reported on areas, where humanitarian disasters occur on a daily basis.
Consider donating money regularly – by committing to an agreed monthly sum (which can be charged to your credit card, and is also tax deductible), then MSF (or your chosen charity) can budget for that income stream on an ongoing basis. It also makes it easier to budget for yourself – the money going out regularly means you won’t miss it. Donate a sum of money regularly and you’ll easily forget that you ever had it in the first place !
Reading the reports from organisations such as MSF highlight the incredible suffering of such a large part of the world. But they also show how easy it can be to make a difference. The sums of money they are talking about in many cases are not all that large. It only costs a couple of dollars to vaccinate people against diseases we take for granted as being free of. Building a pipeline to pump fresh water to a village does not cost millions of dollars. Even small donations can make a real difference to individuals somewhere in the world. The disasters such as HIV/AIDS require much more effort, but even then, some basic education about the implications of the disease can help prevent further spread of the devastation. Ignorance can be just as big a killer, and it’s easily and cheaply treated, even if the underlying problem is not !
As much as we complain about our failing health system here at home, we really do have it easy. We should all be doing more to help those who don’t even have the basic health care that we all take for granted.