Jan 9, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Australia's wildfires elicit massive donations

An illustration of a jar having money put into it

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Australian wildfires have elicited massive charitable donations: $33 million crowdsourced from Celeste Barber via Facebook; $1 million from actor Chris Hemsworth; $700,000 from a bikini model sending nudes on Twitter.

But, but, but: Most of the money is ending up in the coffers of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) — part of the state government — and which last year saw donations of less than $1 million.

  • There is no evidence that the RFS is cash-constrained. Its income comfortably exceeded its expenses last year, and it has not made any pleas for donations this year. In fact, it has said that giving away the money will be a "challenge."

Between the lines: The human urge to donate money in the wake of a disaster — to feel that you're doing something — can be incredibly strong.

Why it matters: Firefighting is a central part of what governments should provide, and to that end the RFS receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the government every year. The RFS is staffed by volunteers, but it is not primarily a charity.

Our thought bubble: Part of the challenge facing the RFS is going to be to spend these funds on things it doesn't need, perhaps just by passing the money on to victims of the fire. All necessities should be covered by standard government funding mechanisms.

Go deeper: Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

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