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Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

Disaster Response FAQ

How does UUSC decide whether or not to respond to a disaster?

UUSC takes into account a wide range of criteria in making this decision, including the following:

  • The existence of current or former partners, or a history of work, in the region
  • The level of interest and support shown by UUSC’s members
  • The level of human suffering as a result of the crisis
  • The evidence of violations of human rights
  • The indication that groups of people are being intentionally or inadvertently overlooked in the response
  • The existence of viable partner organizations
  • The effectiveness of the existing response

Generally, the likelihood of our response increases to the degree that these factors grow in magnitude, with the exception of the last criterion listed.

Why should I donate money to disaster relief and recovery?

Access to funds is critical in the wake of a disaster or humanitarian crisis. Funding enables our partners to move quickly, buy and distribute the necessary supplies, move goods and people around, communicate, etc. Funds are also needed for long-term recovery after a disaster — especially once many international organizations have concluded their response and moved on.

How is UUSC different from other disaster-response agencies, such as the Red Cross?

Large-scale natural disasters and the humanitarian crises that follow require a wide variety of aid, immediately and over the mid- and long-term. UUSC’s disaster response focuses on those groups of people who are at risk of being overlooked by mainstream disaster responses. Efforts of agile, focused aid agencies like UUSC complement efforts of big aid agencies like the Red Cross.

Large aid agencies roll out large-scale disaster programs in a one-size-fits-all approach. In major disasters, this kind of response gets a large amount of aid to a large number of people. However, one drawback to this approach is its assumption that everyone is in the same situation when the disaster occurs.

UUSC, by contrast, works from our knowledge that when a disaster strikes, people are in very different situations, determined by race, class, and gender. To help illustrate this, consider the following: research shows that in a disaster-stricken city covered by one ambulance service, an ambulance will respond twice as fast to an emergency call from a wealthy neighborhood than it will to an emergency call from a poor neighborhood. Support from UUSC, in contrast, would go directly to those people whom the ambulance takes twice as long to reach. UUSC’s work begins with an understanding that how people are marginalized before a disaster will affect their access to relief after a disaster.

How much of my donation directly supports relief and recovery?

UUSC sends 88 cents of every dollar you donate to support relief and recovery efforts on the ground. The remaining 12 cents covers essential administrative expenses such as wire transfer fees to send funds, calls between our office and our partners on the ground, and temporary hires to support our rapid response.

What is UUSC’s experience in responding to large-scale disasters? How does UUSC determine who to partner with?

UUSC successfully responded to crises in the aftermaths of September 11; the Indian Ocean tsunami; Hurricane Katrina; the Myanmar cyclone; the earthquakes in Pakistan, Haiti, and Japan; and the flooding in Pakistan. Our experience has taught us time and again that in every disaster, groups of people are at particular risk of being overlooked or left behind in traditional aid programs. The best way of identifying and reaching these groups is through partnering with grassroots organizations working in the country itself. Because UUSC is a justice organization, this is our particular focus in any crisis.

We contact grassroots organizations, listen to their concerns, bring in our reflections from our disaster experience, and together shape a program that is relevant, looks at people as survivors, not victims, and begins from the needs they articulate.

How does UUSC work in a disaster setting if they do not have staff in the affected area?

Because local responders are usually the first and best responders after disaster, UUSC works in close partnership with like-minded organizations already working on the ground. Their firsthand knowledge of their communities enhances their ability to assist and support people in crisis, particularly marginalized groups, like minorities, who are often left behind by traditional relief efforts. We work to support and strengthen local organizations since they will be there doing the work long after the relief organizations pack their bags. Sometimes, UUSC contracts with people on the ground on a short-term basis to provide hands-on support, or places them in a partner organization.

Does UUSC accept in-kind donations?

UUSC does not have the infrastructure to accept donations of goods in the wake of a disaster. At the same time, donated funds used to buy supplies in country often keeps small farmers and small producers functioning after a disaster. This is a critical way to support both immediate needs and the long-term recovery process in the aftermath of a disaster.

I would like to volunteer. Can UUSC place me in such a position?

UUSC usually does not have capacity to place volunteers early in a crisis since we work through partners who have their own local staff on the ground. Sometimes our partners will request that we find someone with a particular skill or link someone up to a group that is looking for particular skills. If you do have a specific medical skill or expertise that you would like to offer, please contact us and we will try to get you in touch with other organizations that are looking for volunteers. We will reassess the possibility of volunteer work after the first three or four months.