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Should I donate goods overseas?

Many Australians ask us if they can send clothing, tinned food, blankets and other goods to people affected by disasters overseas.

We really appreciate the generosity but the truth is that donated goods often don't help in these situations. Cash is the best and quickest way to help people affected by disasters; donated goods are best given to charity shops to help people closer to home.

Read our new report on unsolicited donations (PDF)

What is the problem with donating goods overseas?

The cost and effort required to store, process and transport donated goods often exceeds their value. For example, getting a box of used clothing into to a container, on to a ship, across the sea, pas port and customs tariffs, unpacked, sorted, catalogued and moved to a warehouse takes time and money at each step. Local government and relief agencies have to pay these costs for every box donated. This also directs resources away from the relief effort.

It's much more cost-effective for relief agencies to buy what's needed in bulk, from local suppliers wherever possible, and pre-packed for easy transport and storage.

What happens to goods sent overseas?

Red Cross research found that found that more than 70 shipping containers filled with knitwear, bedding, canned food, shoes and other unsolicited goods were sent to Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam in 2015. Ten months after the cyclone, 18 containers remained uncollected, accumulating nearly $2 million in storage fees, while half the canned food items had expired.

Meanwhile, Fiji received enough unsolicited goods after Cyclone Winston to fill 33 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Many donated items were inappropriate for Pacific culture, including high heels, heavy blankets, handbags and woollen knitwear.

I've collected goods already. What should I do with them?

Most charity shops will gratefully accept good-quality clothing and household items. These can be on-sold to raise funds to help people in Australia or further afield.

Search for your nearest Red Cross shop.

Is there a safe way to donate goods?

There can be, if you: are sending them to a specific individual; have considered and paid all shipping costs and tariffs; have someone able to receive them at the port; have arranged how they will get to the intended recipient. Donations to family members are one example.

Be aware that ports and airports can be overwhelmed with deliveries after a disaster. This can delay the arrival of urgently-needed goods like medicines, tarpaulins or water supply equipment.

Why is cash more effective?

Cash donations enable aid agencies to help in whatever way is most needed by people affected. For example, that could be buying tarpaulins in bulk to provide emergency shelter or giving families cash to buy items they need from local markets.

12 Jan 17: Media release - Donating goods overseas can be a waste of generosity

12 Jan 17: Report: The challenges of unsolicited bilateral donations in Pacific humanitarian responses (PDF)

24 Feb 16: Fiji doesn't need the shirt off your back