In-kind Donations – a disaster after disaster?

By Sahari Ani, Director of Services

We are often gripped to the core when we watch clips of disasters on the news. When the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami swept everything in her path, our hearts went out to those who have lost everything. We want to do our bit to help. And we started thinking of what they would need. Flashlight? Medicine? Warm clothing? Food? What we fail to realise is, more often than not, in-kind donations hamper rather than help the relief efforts.


Food donations are not encouraged as there are many considerations to take into account; the dietary preferences of the disaster-hit country, the expiry dates, storage conditions, the manpower and time required for the inspection, organisation, repackaging and the distribution. Cash donations are preferred as food appropriate for the locals can be purchased more quickly from within the country. This helps to revive the local economy of the disaster-hit nation.


Donation of medicines/pharmaceutical products is not encouraged as the medicines may not be relevant to the emergency situation, to the disease pattern or to the level of care that is targeted. Medicines donated may be unknown to local health professionals and patients or may not comply with local policies or standard treatment guidelines. Some donated medicines come under trade names that are not registered for use in the recipient country and without a generic name on the label. There is also a need to consider the remaining shelf life of the medicines and the required documentation. 

Disaster relief agencies and first responder units are usually well-stocked with the provisions to manage a medical crisis. When there is a need, they will work directly with drug companies and medical suppliers to get the right supplies to the right place.


Boxes of clothes hinder rather than help the recovery efforts. Boxes of mixed clothing need to be sorted by size and type, cleaned in some cases, repackaged and deployed to those who need it most. If there is insufficient manpower to sort all

the donations, the clothing may quickly fill warehouses or end up in the landfill with the rest of the disaster debris. 


Blankets may hamper the clean up efforts. Monetary donations will be more efficiently spent if blankets are bought directly from suppliers within the disaster-hit country. This will also indirectly help to boost the economy of the disaster-hit country.

In-kind donations are not encouraged due to logistical considerations associated with freight related issues. Besides the need for permit, there may be delays in clearing the items at the airport due to influx of donations from all over the world. If there is a delay, a fine may even be imposed. That is after deploying extensive resources to collect, sort and pack at the initial stage.

Monetary donations are encouraged because the money can be used to purchase items more quickly at other unaffected areas within the country, thereby enhancing flexibility in Singapore Red Cross’ response coordination at this critical time of need.