December 10, 2023

Red Cross defends slow rollout of $21m Cyclone Gabrielle fund

Watch: Sarah Stuart Black from Red Cross defends the organisations' response in spending money donated by Kiwis.

The Red Cross is defending only spending a fraction of what it collected in appeals following Cyclone Gabrielle.

In the aftermath of the cyclone, Red Cross was able to raise more than $21 million from generous Kiwis.  

But locals and businesses in Hawke’s Bay have been left scratching their heads, asking where the money is. 

Red Cross secretary general Sarah Stuart Black told AM on Monday they have spent $3.98m of the $21m on various things. 

“We’ve looked at how we give a proportion of the money to some of that emergency response and early recovery work, which was things like generators and SAT phones, equipment that was brought into the area,” Black told AM co-host Ryan Bridge. 

“The second part is about our partnerships program and that’s about working on the needs that communities have right now and that’s our biggest kind of financial contribution and where we expect to spend the most money. 

“The final part will be for some of the resilience building that will help some of those communities that have been hit in this emergency but are likely to be isolated or need to respond again in future.”

But Kiwis in Hawke’s Bay don’t think that’s good enough and are frustrated at the lack of speed that the organisation is spending the $21 million.

Black said she understands people’s frustrations but deflected away any criticism saying they’re part of a “multi-agency effort”.

“We’re really aware of some of those messages, but we’re also part of a multi-agency effort that goes into response and recovery and so one of the things that I think has been misunderstood perhaps, is there is a range of organisations that have different roles and responsibilities,” Black told AM. 

“So in the emergency itself, including into the early part of recovery, our role was actually supporting the evacuation centres, doing a needs assessment, providing first aid. We weren’t one of the agencies out tasked with physical cleanup, but we also know there’s quite a lot of complexity around that between insurance companies, local and central government.”

When questioned by Bridge if the fundraising campaign, which was advertised as an emergency appeal was misleading, Black was adamant it wasn’t. 

“This is a special appeal. This means that it is ring-fenced, all of the money that is donated goes to the purpose of the fund and those that have been impacted,” she said. 

“The reason for that is we can then be really transparent and accountable for the money that New Zealanders have entrusted to us, that it will be used to support those affected communities.” 

Black said the Red Cross is absorbing all of the funding that it takes to run the appeal and implement it, so none of the money donated by Kiwis will go to those costs. 

Black also stressed the Red Cross wanted to take the learnings from the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 when they were criticised for spending the money too quickly. 

“There was criticism that New Zealand Red Cross moved too fast and the money didn’t make the biggest difference or have the greatest impact,” she said. 

“There was criticism that in fact, we didn’t engage with iwi or we duplicated funding or support that was already available. We’ve taken the appropriate time we think to be able to talk with those people, to understand what the needs are on the ground.” 

Black said the majority of the $21 million will be spent in the first six months following the cyclone. 

“The majority of it will be spent in the first six months with the wash-up of that within the first year. So the majority will go out that first six months.” 

Watch the full interview with Sarah Stuart Black in the video above.

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