Dear Editor,

  On September 3, 2019, Red Cross St. Maarten decided to collect monetary donations to support the Bahamas Red Cross in response to the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. The storm battered the Bahamas and lingered there for more than a day, causing tremendous damage to the island’s homes and infrastructure. It’s vital to understand that Red Cross St. Maarten’s effort intends to complement the support of the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies and other agencies that are also providing aid to the Bahamas.

  Red Cross St. Maarten has learned valuable lessons about distributing aid locally, regionally and internationally in the past years. By sharing this information we hope to clarify the current process of emergency relief aid to the Bahamas, so St. Maarten residents understand why we focus on collecting monetary donations instead of in-kind donations. We owe all donors that same courtesy, and we aim for transparency at all times with all parties involved.

  As Red Cross we aim to support the affected population as best as possible based upon their local and specific needs. The local authorities and the Bahamas Red Cross with support of the International Federation of Red Cross is currently conducting needs assessments among the affected population. Based upon this data specific requests for donations are already being made. So humanitarian aid is based on what is needed by the affected people first. Unfortunately, many of the well-meaning donations do not match the immediate needs of the people.

  Processing unsolicited goods requires an immense amount of manpower and funds. All goods coming in need to be cleared through Customs, transported to local warehouses, checked for quality standards, sorted according to type, size and expiration date and eventually distributed. When you’re short on helping hands and funds you don’t want to be sorting piles of clothes while people have no access to safe drinking water. The aid needs to be well targeted and fast. This can only be done if we are absolutely certain that the goods coming in are actually requested and fit the quality standards of the affected country. We don’t want to burden the local responders with goods they haven’t requested at the moment, are not culturally appropriate or don’t match minimum quality standards.

  The devastation at the Bahamas is enormous, this also affected the different supply routes to the disaster areas. Local airports have been shut, boats and harbors are seriously damaged, roads are flooded or filled with debris, warehouses are destroyed. Taking into account this limited local logistics capacity, the ‘pipeline’ gets congested quickly. During previous disasters runways were clogged with boxes of unsorted clothes and food, preventing essential supplies to be delivered. Therefore, priority is given to the most critical supplies first as requested by the local authorities and agencies.

  We also need to think about the cost of transport of goods. Transport of goods is costly and time consuming. Why spending thousands of dollars on shipping water from one island to another while relief organizations can purify a multiple volume of water locally using less funds. Or why flood the local markets with imported food items if local markets or local production eventually re-established providing income to local merchants or farmers.

  To  ensure support to our sister Red Cross in the Bahamas, we are collecting monetary donations to give to the Bahamas Red Cross, via the International Federation of Red Cross, so that those agencies, on the ground, can react swiftly and appropriately to the most urgent needs. 

  Red Cross St. Maarten made a conscious decision not to send food and clothing supplies without a formal request from the Bahamas Red Cross to avoid burdening relief workers and volunteers with unrequested aid. Also, we believe that the provision of cash to local aid organizations helps them in adapting their response options based upon the local context, supporting their freedom of choice and dignity as local actors.

  When can Red Cross St. Maarten send food and clothing supplies?

  We will send food and clothing supplies  when there is a request from Bahamas Red Cross.

   Why are we collecting monetary donations locally rather than having the money sent directly to Bahamas?

  Red Cross St. Maarten acknowledges that the Bahamas services will be interrupted  after the storm. Receiving cash donations or bank transfers is to ensure that we can provide funds for purchasing items that are based on a Needs Assessment.

  Why is it necessary  to do a  Needs Assessment?

  A Needs Assessment ensures that Red Cross and other agencies are collecting and providing the correct type of aid to affected people.

  What happens after a Needs Assessment?

  Usually, agencies on the ground submit formal requests to cohorts regionally and internationally for assistance in meeting the needs captured in an assessment.


Duane Robin

Netherlands Red Cross – St. Maarten