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Why Money is More Useful Than Supplies for the Russo-Ukrainian War Refugee Relief Effort

Why Money is More Useful Than Supplies for the Russo-Ukrainian War Refugee Relief Effort

Jan 13, 2023


The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and its impact on neighboring countries has motivated individuals to gather donations. However, these well-intentioned efforts can create challenges for those providing aid on the ground. In the aid community, the commonly accepted belief is that "cash is best." Cash donations may seem less personal, but they are more efficient and effective in reaching those in need. Despite the desire to send tangible items, it is important to remember that cash donations ensure that resources reach their intended recipients.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHR) reports that over one million refugees have sought refuge in neighboring countries since the onset of the invasion. In response to this humanitarian crisis, various communities and organizations have begun to collect donations to aid those fleeing war. These efforts include collection drives at community centers in Liverpool, UK, ice hockey fan clubs in Mannheim, Germany, and many other locations. Donations of items such as food, clothing, painkillers, blankets, toothpaste, and other essentials are being gathered in large quantities to provide support to those in need.

Many donations are being sent to Poland, which has taken in over 505,000 refugees from Ukraine, with nearly 100,000 arriving daily. Upon viewing media coverage of donated items piling up in other countries, one the authors of the UNHR report responded with: "Terrible. In a worst-case scenario, we need to think of how to recycle this, there aren't even enough people to sort it all." 

Despite the outpouring of support in Poland, the supply of donated items at the border far surpasses the demand. The excess of items has led to the need to move them away from the border to prevent blocking the area. Most necessary items can also be purchased locally without incurring the added cost of international transportation.

It's worth noting that there is already a 1.5 million-strong Ukrainian community in Poland and around 90% of the new arrivals will stay with family and friends. Free transportation is offered at border crossings and train travel is free for those arriving from Ukraine. Most of the new arrivals, who are mostly women and children, move on swiftly from the border and rarely seek material aid.

The greatest need is in Ukraine, where food shortages have been reported in certain areas. Delivering aid in a war zone is difficult and the European Commission has started to transport urgently needed medical and civil protection items to Kyiv. The UN is working with humanitarian partners to support local authorities in setting up reception centers for refugees within Ukraine and plans to establish a distribution hub in Poland.

In many humanitarian responses, a significant portion of donations (60%) end up in landfills. Using items that are readily available locally is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, as well as more likely to meet current and actual needs.

Donated goods are necessary in situations where the local market cannot supply them. However, it is crucial to ensure that the specific items needed are delivered. A balance should be struck between donated goods, local procurement, and cash support.

Monetary donations remain the most efficient way to provide aid. Those who prefer to donate physical items can consider selling them locally and donating the proceeds to organizations helping refugees.