Exclusive: USAID Operations in Syria and Iraq

ReliefAnalysis is privileged to bring exclusive content from the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), authored by CIDI staff.  For more information about USAID CIDI and helping international disaster survivors, please visit www.cidi.org or write to media@cidi.org.


USAID CIDI is an education organization that is focused on effective public donations in support of disaster relief. Created by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1988, USAID CIDI works with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), which leads and coordinates the U.S. Government’s humanitarian assistance efforts overseas.

USAID/OFDA responds to an average of 70 disasters in more than 50 countries every year, under a mandate to save lives, reduce human suffering and reduce the social and economic impact of humanitarian crises worldwide. USAID CIDI was created by USAID/OFDA in 1988 to inform the public about the best ways to donate in support of relief efforts. USAID CIDI does not accept or distribute donations, but does collect and disseminate information to enable individuals and groups to provide the most effective assistance to people affected by disasters.

A survey USAID CIDI conducted through Harris Interactive in 2013 found that in the past five years, 63% of Americans have made donations to relief organizations in the aftermath of natural disasters. USAID CIDI’s mission is to enable donors to make the most of their generosity by using Smart Compassion. Through cash contributions, relief organizations can do more good for more people, with greater speed and sensitivity than with unrequested material donations. Cash donations provide life-saving services in the short term, and help to rebuild communities through the long term.

Complex emergencies like the current situations in Syria and Iraq can be overwhelming for donors as the political, social, and economic fabrics within these societies are in tatters. The number of actors, the quickly evolving situation and the circumstances for affected people can bewilder even the most experienced donor. It’s even more difficult to know what day-to-day needs are on the ground. This is why USAID CIDI promotes Smart Compassion.

Smart Compassion means understanding that there is a more effective, efficient way to aid those who are suffering: monetary donations to trusted, experienced organizations.

Why cash? Monetary donations do not spoil, expire, incur transportation costs, and take a long time to arrive at the destination. They are flexible; allowing relief workers on the ground to purchase what is needed, when it is needed, how ever much is needed almost immediately.

Informed donors make the most of charity “watchdog” organizations like Charity Navigator to affirm the legitimacy and effectiveness of organizations they are thinking about supporting. We recommend the umbrella organizations InterAction and GlobalGiving; Each has thorough vetting, auditing and transparency requirements for their member organizations, which span the breadth of causes that interest donors and inspire them to give.

How are CIDI and the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (ODFA) working together on the Syria and Iraq crises?

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with implementing NGOs to provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of children, women, and men displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) assault on Sinjar and surrounding areas of northern Iraq.

USAID is deploying humanitarian response experts to key locations in the region to manage and coordinate U.S. Government support of the Government of Iraq’s humanitarian aid effort for those displaced by ISIL.USAID CIDI supports this humanitarian work by encouraging prospective donors to support the relief and charitable organizations working directly with crisis-affected people.

USAID established the Center to educate the public about the advantages of giving monetary donations to relief organizations and the downside of donating unsolicited material goods which is what we do today. We answer calls from individuals, groups, charities, and businesses with offers of donations or volunteer service. We do outreach via traditional media, social media, and in-person presentations about Smart Compassion. We focus on diaspora groups, in this case people who have cultural, historic, or ethnic ties to Iraq and Syria. These individuals and groups are particularly impacted as they watch this complex crisis unfold in their countries of origin. We introduce them to Smart Compassion, to USAID’s work in the region and to the process of becoming a USAID/OFDA implementing partner. Diaspora, due to this connection to their country of origin, have enhanced knowledge of the local context, language, geography, and politics that aid their ability to understand the situation on the ground.

Given the scale of the Iraq and Syria complex emergencies, are there lessons learned that will be valuable to future CIDI operations?

Thankfully, compassionate people will continue to donate in support of disaster-affected people. Because of this, USAID CIDI will continue it’s messaging about the most effective and efficient way for donors to help people affected by crises. The Iraq and Syria emergencies are ongoing conflicts, and people caught in the violence will need support for weeks and months to come. It is increasingly important that messaging and information about the crises is available and publicized to help combat donor fatigue and ensure interest after the news agencies have shifted their attention. We have a solid, tested, successful message, and we are continually looking for new ways to support donors, NGOs and disaster-affected people.

Contact CIDI 

For more information about USAID CIDI and helping international disaster survivors, please visit www.cidi.org or write to media@cidi.org.

This entry was posted in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, Middle East & North Africa, War and Conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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