Providing Aid Relief - Need advice please

If anyone has previous solid experience of providing aid to disaster or war-torn areas, either in a military, security or NGO capacity, please PM me, as I’d appreciate your advice.

Many thanks in advance for your help.

By way of clarification (and as a spur to elicit some responses), there’s a chance that I’ll be travelling to Benghazi, Libya, to ensure the delivery of medical aid to the main hospital there. It would be obviously easiest to approach from the Egyptian border as that area is in anti-government hands, but I’m hoping for some advice from people with previous experience as to what sorts of things to anticipate, what issues I might have to face, what dangers I could encounter, and how to overcome them.


Hey, I looked for your contact email on your profile, but didn’t see it (could have been my fault, maybe I missed it). I’m a foreign aid worker specializing in conflict zones and have moved relief into Irag and Afghanistan right after the cessation of hostilities (but never medical supplies). I’m glad to try to answer any questions you may have.

Here are a few thoughts, sorry it’s kind of a mess, I just typed it up before work. I’m happy to talk to you in detail via email.
These are the questions you need to have an answer to, or be getting an answer to:
a) Who is the recipient of your aid? Is it Ministry of Health (MoH), individual hospitals or clinics?
b) Do they want what you are bringing in? Does it fit with the way they practice medicine in Libya? Is it up to date items, or is it some obsolete medicine and equipment that some big pharma company is just dumping for the tax credit (don’t assume that your recipients want or need any old stuff laying around a warehouse, storing and distributing obsolete junk can be taking them away from mission critical tasks during this national crisis).
c) Have you identified who is going to receive it, or are you going to have to go in with the supplies in hand and look for your recipients? If the latter, where are you going to store it while you find your recipients?
d) How are you going to make sure that the intended recipients receive the goods? It is not just a question of the items being stolen, but it is possible that different groups want to use the materials in a different way than you intend. For example, maybe the military hospitals want the materials for their hospitals, maybe a university medical school wants the items for their classes, etc. etc.
e) Are you working with the UN? If so, push all deadlines back. Document every meeting and any time the UN agrees to do something for you get it in writing with the responsible person and the agreed upon deadline (good luck getting something in writing from the UN). If at all possible, avoid the UN.
f) Often during crisis like this the government kind of melts away and then re-emerges when the dust settles. Does the person you are dealing with still represent the legitimate government of Libya? What is the legitimate government of Libya? If you start working with whomever seems able to help you, are you destabilizing the country further by undermining legitimate institutions by creating your own?
g) How are you keeping distribution records? Do you have handover documents prepared in the local language? Do the recipients understand how to use what you are giving them? Is it possible you could be doing harm if they don’t understand how to properly use these items? Are the items something that aren’t usefull unless they are able to set up resupply network (for example meds that come in multiple course, such as for HIV)?
a) I know nothing on the situation on the ground in Libya, but I saw some of CNN’s stars reporting on the ground from there so you know a) they have hair dryers in Libya, and b) security is doable
b) At this stage, no one really knows what’s going on, anyone who is telling you how it is there is probably full of crap
c) Decide for yourself, move in stages that you are comfortable with
d) Does anyone report to you? Your first responsibility is their safety, full stop. If someone works for you and they get killed while trying to do their job, that is on you. Always keep this in mind when weighing the risk versus benefits of your decisions. Don’t let this concern paralyze you, but take it seriously. If there are risks, make sure the benefits outweigh the risks. If someone gets killed trying to get life saving meds to people that’s one thing, but someone getting killed so that Beyer can write off some expired laxatives on their taxes is another (the medical aid business has a really sleazy side that you need to steer clear of).
e) Are you using armed mercenaries such as Blackwater, if so, you’ll be fine because they keep their clients safe by preventing you from doing any work. Most of what they do is theater designed to keep the clients scared so that they spend more money on security.
f) Your best security is to be working with local people who like and trust you (and are in the vehicle with you, so they have a vested interest in not getting blown up). Don’t get caught up in the Noble Savage BS that a lot of new aid workers do with the locals. This kind of neo-colonialism crap gets people killed and aid items stolen. Your Libyan colleagues are just that, colleagues. Treat them like professionals who are also invested in the success of the mission. Don’t trust anyone too slick, who is constantly playing up the danger while kissing your ass, this guy is always a thief.
g) If you can’t monitor the work, don’t do it. If you can’t get into community X, but someone says they will take it in for you, go to community Y where you can monitor the work. Badly implemented aid is a destabilizing force that does a lot of harm in the world.

Many thanks for the help and great questions - I’ve just sent you an IM. Let me know if it comes through!

Hey, I answered your message and gave you my email address in my response. Everything I said is really generic, so I will ask around my colleagues and see if anyone knows someone in Egypt who I can put you in contact with, I don’t know off the top of my head if this will pan out though.

Many thanks, I’ve had a look and you’ve given me a lot to consider, so I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I really appreciate the advice and really hope I can make this happen.

In my second message I ask if it is possible to wire money and have the hospital procure what they need locally. It’s not as flashy, but it might be the most reasonable, efficient and safest option. Anyway, a friend of mine who works a lot in the ME is asking around for contacts to send your way.

I sent you some more questions you might want to answer before heading out, I bet you wish you had never asked :slight_smile:

I hope to have some points of contact for you today.

Bibliovore, I sent you some contacts for people/groups working on getting aid into Libya, including someone who has specifically sent medical aid into Benghazi in the past few days. I still have some feelers out and if I get more contacts, I’ll PM them to you and then give you a heads up here.

Mods: please let me know if I’m violating any board policy by replying so many times to myself in this thread.

Hey, I put some more contacts in a PM to you, this is for the Lion’s Club, Egypt, they might have some helpful ideas. I think that’s about it for my network, I hope some of them pan out for you.

I have a rather basic question, but in the event that I can’t get things moving fast enough with the charity I’m working with, how would I go it alone in providing aid?

What I mean by that specifically is say I had 50 grand in my hand - where would I go online to purchase pallets of betadine or suture material, etc? Are there companies online that sell at these quantities? Can I just make a purchase, roll up with a truck, load it up and get the stuff going to where it’s needed?

What about food aid? Where on earth would I buy emergency fortified wheat biscuits or purified water or even 1,000 blankets for that matter?


If you have money, but no organization, your best bet is to funnel that money to an organization already working on the problem. Some of the contacts I gave you are running aid into Libya and they can put you in contact with others.

The reason I make this recomendation is that established organizations are going to have networks in place, they are going to know how to get supplies into the host country and they are going to know what supplies to buy. They are also procuring supplies in very large quantities thus getting more for their money.

If you were to try to create all of this operational knowledge on your own in a vacume, you are unlikely to do so very efficiently. To be honest, there is a good chance you wouldn’t be able to even get into Libya and the resources will have been spent.

If you contacted an aid agency providing aid to Libya and said a) I have a check for $50k and b) I want to do more than just give you money, I want to help; they would probably welcome the check and extra pair of hands. You would get some on the job training while making sure the funds have the best chance of doing some good.

The mantra of aid work is that the needs of the world are infinite, so if you miss this crisis, relax, there is always more misery coming around the corner. Providing aid well is actually really hard and lots of good intentions lead to very few actual outputs. I don’t mean to sound too negative, but if you want to make a contribution, get with someone already working on the problem and give him/her a hand.

I don’t know jack about providing aid, but Rotary International is headquartered in my hometown and I know people there (including one who used to work in humanitarian programs, who is one of my oldest HS friends).

If you are still hell-bent on doing this (and I have an inkling why you might be), I don’t want to see you do something that might get you hurt, and will be glad to ask what local infrastructure my friend might know about that might be able to put your resources to good use. Just PM me.

Also, if you call the doctor in Cairo from that first batch of contacts I sent you, he is actively sending medical aid into Benghazi and would likely have some great advice. It is quite possible that he has activities that you can piggyback on.

I would call him when you are committed to doing something. I’m guessing that he’s pretty busy and that the situation is very fluid. Don’t waste his time, but when you have a concrete plan in place, give him a call.

Thanks, we most certainly will contact him. I’m meeting my charity contact tonight to finalise our plans.

And I absolutely take your point about not trying to do it all myself - I agree that would be pretty foolish and I won’t attempt it. I guess my reason for asking about where to buy the aid isn’t so much that I plan to go it completely alone, but because I wanted to help speed things up with the charity I’m working with. I want to be able to go to my contact and say “See? I gave you a list of the supplies the hospital urgently needs, and *here *is where you can buy them - now get buying!”

So, sorry to be a pest and repeat the question, but I need to ask again about where to actually buy the medical aid, food and blankets that are needed. Any ideas?

On the plus side it sounds like I’ll be able to arrange a trustworthy contact to
meet us at the Libyan side of the border. Here’s hoping this all goes well and I can actually help make a difference.

Thanks Eva, if you could ask your friend for me, that would really be appreciated. I do have a personal interest in doing what I can to help, but I fully intend to return in one piece. :o)

I know nothing about the market for these items in Egypt. I would talk to the contacts I gave you which include the Lion’s Club rep in Cairo, two other people working on delivering aid to Libya and a couple of facebook pages where aid implementers are meeting to coordinate relief. Not to toot my own horn, but I think there are some really solid leads in that info I gave you and if I was about to drop into Egypt to start moving aid into Libya, I think you could do worse than that list. If I were you, I would start asking my specific questions to those folk.

E-mail sent; I’ll keep you posted. My friend isn’t in humanitarian grants anymore, but it’s not such a huge org headquarters, and I imagine he knows the person who does his old job.

Well, at least it was a quick response, but I don’t know how helpful it will be. I wish you the best of luck, and stay safe!

Your surrogate Jewish mother,