One week ago today, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine Islands at Guiuan. Packing winds of greater than 190 mph, the storm was the strongest typhoon to make landfall. Whole towns were leveled, trees flattened, and families displaced. Now, those residents must prepare for the next storm, an onslaught of aid and donations to provide relief and help them rebuild.
We’ve seen this before, most recently in Haiti after the destructive earthquake of 2010. Aid money and western aid workers flowed into the country at an unprecedented pace. Attempts to provide long term help and reconstruction suffered as the amount of capital outstripped the ability of local human capital to wisely direct that aid in ways that benefited Haitians over the long term. Even the most well-meaning and competent organizations have struggled to make investments that bettered the lot of Haitians, not just immediately, but well into the future.
Providing food, water, and short term shelter are all worthy goals; however, aid providers often feel it’s their responsibility to make sure those they assist get fed, clothed, and sheltered. This is particularly true in rebuilding houses, churches, schools, and other structures. Well-meaning “field trips” drop in to a community and rebuild structures for people. They build houses or schools and present them to people as gifts and testaments of their generosity.