In the wake of deaths and heavy damage in Central America from Hurricane Mitch, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has offered advice on appropriate ways to provide aid to areas hit by a natural disaster.
Rapid communications spread word of disasters around the globe in minutes, and outpourings of aid can be of great help. But PAHO officials caution that, despite good intentions, aid that does not answer real needs can become a burden. For example, contrary to popular belief, epidemics and plagues are not an automatic aftereffect of natural disasters. Therefore, PAHO officials have discouraged aid agencies and other donors from indiscriminately sending medicines that could clog the system of delivery for more essential supplies.
Voelker R. Pinpointing Disaster Needs. JAMA. 1998;280(22):1898. doi:10.1001/jama.280.22.1898