Typhoon Haiyan

Disaster fund too rigid to offer timely help in Philippines, say charities

Major charities call on government to revamp Disaster Relief Fund, while asking companies to dig deeper to help desperate Philippine victims

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am

Relief agencies including Hong Kong Red Cross and Oxfam have lashed out at the government's Disaster Relief Fund, saying it is too rigid to support their operations in the Philippines.

They said the procedures required to apply for funding were inflexible and they had been restricted from doing anything other than distributing emergency goods to survivors at fixed places.

The criticism came after the six big charities in the city - World Vision, Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Unicef, Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres - said they had collected a combined HK$22.1 million in donations to help survivors, seven days after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines.

Red Cross and Oxfam representatives told an RTHK programme yesterday that Hongkongers remained generous when it came to helping disaster victims around the world.

But Chan Kai-ming, secretary general of the local Red Cross, said they appeared to be less generous in giving to relief efforts in the Philippines, compared with the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, and the Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004.

"It's unclear whether companies are taking into account the public sentiment [towards the Philippines] when they consider [making a donation]," Chan said.

The Red Cross had raised HK$7.7 million so far. Chan said company donations usually accounted for half of the total amount raised, but so far only four companies had made donations of more than HK$100,000.

In 2004, the six major charities collected HK$440 millions for survivors of the Southeast Asian tsunami. And in 2008, they collected HK$600 million for Sichuan earthquake survivors.

On Friday, lawmakers approved adding HK$40 million to the Disaster Relief Fund.

Agencies can apply for funds to cover relief work. But Chan May-ling of Oxfam said the government limited their use to the dispatch of emergency supplies. "Modern relief measures are no longer limited to the dispatch of emergency goods. The government should review and expand the fund in order to help more people," she said.

Oxfam was now heavily reliant on public donations to fund its work to restore hygiene and clean water supplies in the storm-hit areas, she added.

Chan Kai-ming added that the fund was inflexible, and it required relief agencies to go through another application process if they wanted to move emergency supplies to another location in greater need.

DAB lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, a member of the fund's advisory committee, admitted that restrictions were in place which may limit the relief work being carried out. She said they were designed to address public concern about how the funding was being used.