Hurricane Harvey has devastated Texas, and it's natural to want to help. But don't try to help by donating money to the American Red Cross, journalist and author Jonathan M. Katz writes on Slate. The disaster relief organization may be iconic, but it's far from effective, Katz notes, running down a list of issues the ARC has had, starting with the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The ARC raised $488 million, but it couldn't quite figure out what to do with the funds. "ARC isn't a medical aid group a la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn't do development work or specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods," Katz writes. And what it does do best—provide immediate emergency aid like blankets and temporary shelter—didn't come close to costing $488 million. Two years after the quake, just a third of the money had been committed.
The ARC has been similarly ineffective in responding to US disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. The truth is, the organization is great at raising money, Katz says, but it fails to inform the public it doesn't actually need nearly as much money as it raises, and after the money has been raised, the ARC isn't transparent about what it's used for. There are multiple other issues, including the fact that no regular independent evaluations of the organization are done. Looking at the bigger picture, though, Katz argues that our entire way of handling disasters is wrong, and what we should be doing is working to prevent them, or at least mitigate their impact. We need to look ahead to things like "the growing risk of a major Oklahoma earthquake," Caribbean tsunami, and other potential disasters and bring "lots of attention to helping those areas adapt for the future." His full column.