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Giving: Disaster Relief

December 2, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Eastern Samar, the Philippines a little over three weeks ago with a deadly storm surge, high winds and torrential rains. Over 13 million people were impacted across the central islands of the Philippines, more than 500,000 people were displaced and over 4,000 people lost their lives.

Several relief agencies, including the Philippine Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, UNICEF, the UN World Food Program, CARE, International Medical Corps and Doctors Without Borders, sprang into action, but they were hampered by impassable roads, nonexistent or destroyed infrastructure and downed power lines and telecommunications signals.

The Philippines Red Cross is the country's largest humanitarian organization with about 500,000 volunteers and 1,000 staff members, and it has extensive experience with search-and-rescue operations, large-scale relief efforts and disaster recovery. Emergency response teams moved to set up 1,200 evacuation centers that were housing more than 330,000 people left homeless by the storm at the time this blog was being prepared.

American Express made a contribution of $250,000 toward relief efforts through the American Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and other relief agencies, and also decided to rebate transaction fees for contributions made to the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF through the end of the year.

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan came a little over one year after Hurricane Sandy, which battered the coastline of the Northeastern United States on October 29, 2012. One of the many nonprofit organizations that sprang into action was the American Red Cross, and people from all over the world opened up their wallets, checkbooks and credit cards to contribute $308 million to the American Red Cross. (American Express donated over $1 million to the Red Cross in direct contributions, employee matching gifts and rebate of transaction fees.)

American Red Cross Recently, the Red Cross issued a One Year Report on Superstorm Sandy, which contains a wealth of quantitative and qualitative information about how this money was used to aid the victims of this storm. At the time of the report, more than 90 percent (or $280 million) had been used for Sandy emergency relief and recovery programs, with the biggest share of the money being used for food and shelter (34%), Individual Casework and Assistance (30%) and Housing (16%). Other expenses included Relief Items (12%), Disaster Vehicles and Equipment (3%), Physical and Mental Health Services (2%), Interagency Coordination and Community Resilience.

The American Red Cross also:

  • Activated more than 300 emergency response vehicles
  • Provided more than 74,000 overnight stays in shelters
  • Served more than 17.5 million meals and snacks
  • Distributed more than 7 million relief items
  • Provided nearly 113,000 health and mental health contacts
  • Mobilized more than 17,000 workers and volunteers.

Equally, if not more, important were human stories of rescue and relief. These stories from the report capture two ways that the Red Cross helped victims of the storm:

  • When Sandy sent 10 feet of water rushing through Lido Beach on Long Island, N.Y., Red Cross relief workers delivered aid to the many senior citizens in high-rise apartments without power. At each building, the group divided into teams of two, and went floor-to-floor ensuring that all residents received food, water, blankets and supplies. While in Lido Beach, Red Cross workers heard of a nearby senior citizen center that had lost power. Residents were cold and needed help. "We filled the car with blankets and comfort kits and hot and cold food," said Red Cross volunteer Steve from San Antonio. "When we got there, we would knock on doors and people would just burst into tears. They had no power, no access to media, so they didn't understand the scope of the disaster. We listened, reassured them and promised that more help was on the way."
  • Sandy deposited three feet of water, debris and mud throughout the Ocean Gate, N.J. home where Suzanne lives with her 12 and 13 year old children. The family rode out the storm with a friend before FEMA provided assistance with a hotel. A Red Cross case manager then met with Suzanne to assess her recovery needs, and the Red Cross funded replacement of her walls, floor, carpet and furniture. Later, when a home repair went awry, Suzanne contacted her case manager, and the Red Cross again covered the repairs. "I don't know where I would be," she said, "but I wouldn't be back in my home without the Red Cross."

The Red Cross and other relief agencies are continuing to respond to needs of storm victims in both the Philippines and the Northeast part of the United States, as well as to thousands of every day disasters like fires and power outages. And, individuals, foundations and companies like American Express continue to support their efforts on behalf of our communities.

As we enter the giving season and celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas, it's a good time for everyone to review our giving patterns and check out the impact of our contributions. So, during the holiday season, give generously, but give smartly.

What do you think about the efforts of relief organizations in response to an increasing number of natural disasters around the world? We'd love to hear your comments. Please share your comments and questions by clicking here. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues.

P.S. Did you know that the Red Cross also assists family members and friends who are trying to locate loved ones after disasters? For Typhoon Haiyan, assistance is available by calling 877 733-2767.


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