Red Cross is encouraging people to send help, not high heels and handbags, to countries hit by natural disasters.

A recent report by the Australian Red Cross has found that during major disasters, affected countries receive containers packed with high heels, handbags, heavy blankets, canned food and other unrequested goods.

In the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, Fiji received 133 containers filled with unrequested goods, enough to fill 33 Olympic swimming pools.

“Like many other international organisations, Red Cross does not encourage people to donate goods after disasters,” says New Zealand Red Cross International Operations Manager Andrew McKie.

“We know Kiwis are generous and want to do everything they can to help during an emergency. However, collecting and sending items to affected countries often does more harm than good.”

Putting pressure on the supply chain

The report found that unrequested goods can put pressure on an already-stretched humanitarian supply chain. Relief workers have to sort, catalogue and assess the items, which takes time away from helping the people most affected.

“Donated items can also incur thousands of dollars in storage and handling fees. When extra costs, such as shipping fees, storage and distribution, are taken into account, the costs of sending donated goods often far exceed their value,” Mr McKie says.

“When donated items, like high heels or woolly blankets, are inappropriate for the climate or are not needed, they need to be destroyed, which has a large environmental impact and can cost a lot of money.”

Ten months after Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, uncollected containers of unrequested goods had accumulated nearly $2 million in storage fees, while more than half of the canned food items had expired.

How to help

For these reasons, Red Cross and other international organisations encourage people to donate cash.

“Cash donations allow humanitarian organisations like Red Cross to help in the most effective way. This could be supplying shelter kits or kitchen sets from our pre-stocked warehouses or giving families cash to buy what they need from local suppliers.”

“Instead of sending goods overseas, Kiwis can sell them at garage sales or online and donate the proceeds, or they can drop the goods into their local Red Cross Shop, where they’ll be sold to support Red Cross’ work.”

Read the full report from Australian Red Cross