Ukraine crisis will require at least three years of aid, charities warn

The head of the Disasters Emergency Committee told MSPs the war was causing the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War Two.

10 March 2022

Charities on the ground in Ukraine fear the crisis will last for at least three years and is causing the “fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War”.

The chairwoman of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), Sue Inglish, said  the war in Ukraine was already a  “massive crisis”, with charity workers on the front line delivering food, medicine, supplies and first aid to those affected.

Ms Inglish praised the “extraordinary generosity of the British public” as she revealed that the appeal had raised more than £120 million, including £12 million from Scotland, to support 15 of the major humanitarian aid charities, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Oxfam.

But witnesses said that donations of unnecessary items such as high-heel shoes were “holding back a mammoth volunteer effort” as people were having to sort through boxes of donated belongings.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Europe and External Affairs Committee, Ms Inglish said: “The scale of the need, as you will have seen from the distressing pictures on our TV screens and newspapers, is massive.

“We are estimating that this is going to be the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War.

“Over two million refugees have already fled to neighbouring countries in the last 13 days.

“UN estimates are around seven million people could be internally displaced within Ukraine, and up to 18 million people affected in the country.”

She added: “It is a massive crisis and I think we all recognise that it’s one that’s likely to continue for many years.

“Our initial estimate is that we will be working through this appeal for at least three years.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Nicola Sturgeon helps pack donated aid at the Edinburgh Ukrainian Club (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

Ms English said the level of donations to the appeal is second only to the response to the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami that caused devastation in seven countries in 2004.

Thanking people for donating an “extraordinary amount of money”, she said that the DEC is urging people to donate money rather than items.

“Our advice is – and this comes from members on grounds – that it is much better to give cash rather than to donate goods,” Ms Inglish said.

“This is in no way trying to minimise the response of people who are sending goods, it’s simply a way of trying to say what the most effective means we think of helping people in Ukraine and the surrounding areas now and in future is.”

Madara Hettiarachchi, the DEC director of programmes, told MSPs: “It is not cost effective to send items from here.

“It takes extraordinary manpower to sort through packages and the shipping delivery time means that the people affected – people in need on the ground, whether in Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Poland – it takes time to get the right items to them.

“What agencies really prefer is to buy locally, it is culturally and contextually appropriate, and it also stimulates the local economy.”

She added: “It’s absolutely generous for the UK public to donate items but it’s really preferable to send cash so that the right needs can be met at the right time.”

The chairwoman of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund, Jane Salmonson, said: “I’ve also heard from Mercy Corps about stories coming back about piles of goods with high-heeled shoes sitting on top – of goods donated by well-meaning kind, generous people, which end up at borders needing to be sifted and sorted – are holding back a mammoth volunteer effort.

“So I think for the future it would be excellent to see what we can do to encourage a response of in-kind donations where it specifically meets a specific request but find better ways of channelling the goodwill which will always be there and public generosity to prevent holding back the provision of badly needed aid in a hurry by sifting and sorting private van loads of people driving private vans into dangerous areas.”

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