Humanist Disaster Recovery: A look forward to 2016


2015 saw a huge number of disasters and, according to statistics, those numbers aren't likely to go down in 2016. The question is, what does that mean for those in the humanist community who wish to help?

Our challenge moving forward is two-fold. First, we challenge ourselves to find local organizations working on the ground, not an easy feat for international disasters given language barriers, time differences, and varying quality of communication tools. Despite these challenges evidence suggests, and logic confirms, that donating directly to local organizations provides the most benefit to the impacted community because local organizations are made up of local people with local knowledge who know what the needs are. Immediately following disasters money flows freely to large, well-known organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Yet, how much of these donations are used for the event that is intended by the donor and how effective these donations are remains unclear. It is true that while response (i.e., completing lifesaving activities) can take weeks if not days it is recovery (i.e., returning a community self-sufficiency) that can take years, even decades. We must find ways to support communities throughout the recovery process when other organizations, volunteers, and money has forgotten them. One of the best ways to do this is to donate to organizations that were there before the disaster and will continue to be there throughout the recovery.

Second, we challenge ourselves to find ways to best direct our resources to help the most people. On average there is a disaster somewhere in the world that requires international assistance every other week. The increased interconnectedness of complex systems, climate change, and the widening inequality gap leaves little hope that this statistic will lessen in the years to come.

This year we have seen Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the pacific, climate migration from coastal communities has begun, there were devastating earthquakes in Nepal and Afghanistan, flooding on every continent but particularly in India, Paraguay, Algeria, and South Carolina. Droughts from the western United States to Syria to India to Ethiopia to Brazil. Raging wildfires in the pacific northwest barely compare to the blazes across Malaysia. Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Yemen are all on famine-watch. We started the year with blizzards in the Northeast and saw avalanches in Afghanistan and Mount Everest. Heat waves in India and Pakistan.

This is not to mention the human-caused disasters that have gripped the world’s attention. Many of the crises we saw this year were caused by human action and society inaction. A catastrophic dam break in Brazil and the Tianjin explosions in China. In the United States, we saw mass shootings all year long particularly in Oregon and San Bernardino. Outside the United States, the world was shocked by attacks in France, Kenya, and Lebanon. And, we watched across the Atlantic as a refugee crisis of a scale not seen in Europe since WWII is unfolding.

Human-caused events this year have called us to question what it means to be a secular humanist in a world does not always value human lives, or at least all human lives, equally. We challenge you to question how your humanism informs how you interpret, react, and work to prevent this suffering.

One of the best ways to address the needs these disasters have caused is to support programs like ours. Currently, we only have the resources to become involved with a small fraction of these events. We are in need of your support to allow us to be able to provide the most effective and efficient assistance to communities around the world who find themselves having to recover from events such as these. We need you to help us help others rebuild their homes, rebuild their economies, rebuild education systems and all of the pieces that make up communities. If you are interested in helping us to continue and to expand our work, please check out our year-end fund drive here