Disasters put strain on charities

September 23, 2008 6:32:38 PM PDT
People all over the world depend on charities when disaster strikes. And here, in the United States, the hurricane season is putting a huge strain on the resources of relief agencies. Now, a government report suggests some of the country's largest charities might not be ready to handle a catastrophic event.

Charities are on the ground in Texas and Louisiana, helping hurricane victims. But how much more could they do in a larger catastrophe? If a disaster rocked Washington, D.C., an estimated 150,000 people would need shelter. But the Red Cross could house only one third of that.

An earth quake in Los Angeles could displace 313,000. But the red cross has shelter for only 84,000.

Now, in a new report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at the capabilities of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention and other charities. They concluded that "a worst-case, large-scale disaster would overwhelm voluntary organizations' current sheltering and feeding capabilities."

"For a really catastrophic kind of incident, no one entity alone could handle this," said Cindy Fagnoni, of the Government Accountability Office. "And that reinforces the need to have really good collaboration across all sectors, public, private government."

After Katrina, the Red Cross expanded its rescue capabilities. Those resources are being put to work in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, but money is an issue. The agency estimates it could spend $130 million dollars this year on hurricane relief, but its hurricane fund has only $19 million in contributions. It is asking Congress for $150 million more.

Earlier this year, budget problems forced the Red Cross to lay off 1,000 workers. The GAO says that could hinder the charity's ability to respond to a catastrophe. The Red Cross says it will not.

"We were very careful not to cut the kinds of services that the American Red Cross provides, feeding sheltering, providing emotional support and assistance," the Red Cross' Suzy DeFrancis said.

The GAO also criticizes FEMA for not better assessing what volunteer groups can do and making their responsibilities clear.


STORY BY: Eyewitness News anchor Sade Baderinwa


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