A Crikey reader sent us the following story about the difficulty of donating something other than money to charity during a disaster.

I thought you might be interested in this small piece of information regarding the generosity of one Australian and difficulty he has had in actually getting either private or government sponsored charities to accept his reasonably significant $250 000 gift to the Tsunami victims.

The person in question, Mark Tisdell, owns and operates a company called Prime Pumps and when he saw the extent of the disaster he wanted to do something practical to help. As fresh water seemed to be one of the most critical problems he decided to donate a water purification plant capable of purifying up to 19000 litres per day of salt water, contaminated water or polluted water. The resulting product from the plant is pure enough not just for drinking but for use in hospitals, etc.

The plant itself sits in a shipping container, has its own power supply and is air transportable. In addition to the plant Mark decided to include the services of two technicians to run and maintain the plant as well as any spare parts and chemicals needed for its operation for the duration of the mission.

Once he had put together his package he contacted Care Australia with his offer and was suitably dumbfounded when it was refused,
apparently they work on a cash only basis. Showing a tremendous knowledge of the workings of their fellow aid agencies they told him to call The Australian Red Cross who also told him they would prefer cash but if he wanted to he could submit his package when their ‘Water
Purifiers were put out for Tender’. No amount of pointing out that there was no need for tender when something was free would change that organization’s mind.

The next port of call was the Government sponsored AusAid who were happy to ‘put it on their books for any future need.’

His final port of call was the UN in New York who advised him to contact the UN in Indonesia. He did so on three occasions and on all three occasions he was told that such equipment was desperately needed and somebody would call him back. I realise somebody is very busy at the moment but when every report I see about the Tsunami starts ‘Fresh water is desperately needed’ I begin to wonder.

After running into all those dead ends Mark asked me to assist him while he kept trying at his end. I wasn’t sure if I believed his tale of woe until I contacted World Vision, the UNHCR and The Salvation Army with no success. The UNHCR were probably the most notable in that I left a message with an operator who clearly had no real idea of what I was talking about and said someone would call me back. That someone called me back the next day and spoke to my wife and without asking a single question about the equipment said ‘We don’t need it’.

Charming. As Mark’s business is based in Brisbane I thought I would try the Premier’s office but all they could do was give me a number to call yet that night I watched incredulously as the Deputy Premier announced on Television that the Queensland Government (Why don’t they say Queensland people through their Government?) were sending a significant aid package. The contact number I was given by the way belonged to Emergency Management Australia and they haven’t bothered to return my call.

Finally Mark found someone who jumped at the chance to get the Purification equipment and use it on the ground in Aceh, fortunately for the victims of the Tsunami the European Red Cross seem to be more interested in immediate action rather than merely raising tons of cash and wondering what to do with it next. So the Equipment will be going to Aceh on an Antanov with the European Red Cross.

Mark himself doesn’t give a hoot about the who and the why as long as it gets there and saves people’s lives but to me it beggars belief that $250 000 donated by a philanthropist in Australia now becomes part of the European relief effort.

The European Red Cross have told us that at the moment most of the ground water in Aceh, including fresh water creeks and streams cannot be purified by normal means such as boiling, filtration or purification tablets because the wave went so far inland that much of the water is brackish and is expected to remain that way while salt continues leeching from the soil. (I haven’t heard that on the news.)

The advantage of the reverse osmosis method offered by the plant being donated by Mark is that it filters all water, including salt water, and the Red Cross have up to 5 possible sites for it. By the way they are still as confused as we are as to why no Australian charity would take it and their Director General has called Mark twice to ask him if he really means to send two men with it (It will be Mark and one other). That’s the good news, now the strange news.

I mentioned before that of the two government agencies contacted, AusAid and Emergency Management Australia, the former had quite bizarrely offered to ‘put the water purification plant on their books for future use’ and that the later hadn’t bothered to call back. Since then a representative of Emergency Management Australia has been in contact with Mark, the delay was apparently due to the large number of calls. As the delay was three days I wouldn’t want to have been calling that number for something really important like, oh I don’t know – fresh water for the Tsunami victims.

Mark explained the situation to the individual concerned who was astounded that AusAid hadn’t accepted the equipment. He asked if Mark would be prepared to put something together detailing his experience with AusAid but Mark said that he had no wish to get involved in inter departmental battles. Intriguingly Mark has since had five (5) calls from people at AusAid of increasingly higher rank all along the lines of ‘we have corporate memory of your offer but no record, we have been busy and people do get confused, mistakes are made, we’ll learn from this, it won’t happen in the future, we’ll leave it at that.’

Mark has told all of them that he won’t be leaving it at that which is probably why he continues to get phone calls and those phone calls come from people ever higher up the tree – it will be Sir Humphrey next.