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Shouldn't we give to disaster relief because the people are in more "urgent" or dire need for the money? I was reading this EA argument against disaster relief and was wondering why we are advised against disaster relief.

"The law of diminishing returns also explains why in general, it makes
less sense to donate to disaster relief than it does to donate to the best
charities that fight poverty. Every day, people die from easily preventable
diseases like AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis. This is a disaster far beyond
that of Haiti, or Tohoku, or Sichuan. Every day, eighteen thousand children
—more than the number of people who perished in Tohoku—die from
preventable causes."




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This research article is pretty telling (Comparative Review on the Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Relief Teams’ Deployment to Sudden-Onset Disasters). Some highlights:

  • Talks about: search and rescue (SAR) and Emergency Medical Team (EMT) deployment
  • The results show that both deployments are highly expensive, and their success is strongly related to the time they need to be operational; SAR deployments are characterized by limited outcomes in terms of lives saved, and EMTs by insufficient data and lack of detailed assessment
  • “According to the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR),20 the United Kingdom international SAR (ISAR) teams cost £250,000 per life saved in Haiti, and the UK surgical teams about one-hundredth of this (a little over £2,500) per life saved.”
  • As reported by Macintyre, et al, 17 the majority of rescues (90%) occur within the first 24 hours, with the last survivor rescue usually four days post-impact. A dramatic drop-off occurs during the first 24-48 hours post-earthquake. Most people saved from major disasters are rescued by relatives and neighbors within the first 24 hours—before professional responders can get there. Statistics show that in the 1995 Kobe earthquake, 80 percent of those rescued were saved by their neighbors. So, while local and national authorities have key responsibilities for civil protection in hazard events, communities are always the first responders and should be empowered in that role.
  • Time: 77% die within the first hour. ~8.5% who died b/w hours 3 and 12 might have been saved if appropriate initial emergency response had been available.
  • Generally takes 3 days for an EMT to arrive and be fully established 
  • And finally…”contributes to making disaster relief one of the least cost-effective health activities. As Glassey suggests, the cost of the deployment could save more lives if allocated pre-event to disaster risk reduction and mitigation programs.”
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