Why did Americans donate $730 million to wealthy Japan? | 

Japanese residents offer a prayer for the victims in an evacuation zone near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants.
Japanese residents offer a prayer for the victims in an evacuation zone near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants.

Three years ago today, a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan spawned a tsunami that devastated communities, killed nearly 16,000 people (with some 2,600 still missing) and damaged nuclear power plants at Fukushima.

The international aid and relief community responded with offers of assistance and a surge in fund-raising.

This was actually fairly controversial – partly because Japan is a rich nation capable of taking care of itself and also because the Japanese government initially asked the humanitarian community to not interfere with the disaster response.

One aid worker even contended the whole thing was just an ugly game the humanitarian community often engages in, exploiting a high-profile disaster to raise money. Continue reading

Mercy Corps, World Vision and the nagging question of how to help in Japan | 

World Vision

World Vision in Japan, unloading relief supplies

The Japanese government and the UN agency coordinating humanitarian relief operations, in response to the March 11 quake and tsunami, have repeatedly asked that many foreign organizations refrain from trying to actively assist in the relief efforts.

Is this falling on deaf, if well-intentioned, ears? Or is it a request made to disguise the government’s inability to adequately respond?

I can’t tell.

The request by Japanese and UN officials may appear counter-intuitive, but it’s not too hard to understand upon further reflection. There is limited access on the roads and fuel shortages. The government and in-country assistance organizations need to have priority access. Continue reading

Why you should donate, but maybe not to Japan | 

Flickr, LiminalMike

People want to help.

Well, okay, not everyone wants to help. Some people are jerks.

Despite my skeptical (which some misinterpret as cynical) view of human nature acquired after working a quarter century as a journalist, I find that most people actually do want to assist when they see someone suffering.

Wanting to help is how many of us are reacting to the news out of Japan following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami — now made even more terrible by the possible (though often exaggerated) threat of a major nuclear accident.

Still, it’s important to recognize that wanting to help and actually helping are not the same thing. Continue reading

Guest post: The ugly game of relief for Japan | 

Flickr, jchong

Note: This is a post written by an aid worker I know who, for reasons of employment, doesn’t wish to be identified.


Over the last day, my email inbox has filled with appeals for aid to Japan.

I’ve heard from International Medical Corps, the World Food Programme, the American Red Cross, MSF, and JustGive. That’s the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Oh, and Lady Gaga has a bracelet.

How many of the groups raising money for Japan are actually in Japan providing aid? The Red Cross, kind of.  It’s supporting the Japanese Red Cross, I guess, although the Japanese Red Cross has been quoted saying they don’t need assistance right now.

IMC doesn’t have a presence of any kind in Japan. Neither does Doctors without Borders, Save the Children, or anyone else. World Vision has an office in Japan, but it’s a fundraising office devoted to getting donations for work in Asia. They’re not exactly out there with a helicopter and a search dog. Continue reading

World responds to Japan in crisis | 

Flickr, Logan was his name-o

Aftermath of Japan March 2011 quake

The true nature of the devastation in Japan continues to emerge and the world community is responding, even if it may not be clear what most of the rest of the world can really do to help.

As The Guardian notes, it now appears that the death toll from this massive earthquake and tsunami is expected to exceed 10,000 people. As the newspaper also notes, the Japanese government has deployed more than 100,000 people to conduct search and rescue operations but:

The relief operation is being hampered by the damage done to the country’s transport infrastructure, with roads and rail, power and ports crippled across much of the disaster region.

In this BBC report, one journalist has found evidence of a 100-foot high wall of water hitting one community. As stunning new, and terrible, information keeps coming out in Japan much of the attention is focused on the continuing threat posed by damaged nuclear power plants, some of which have already suffered explosions.

Meanwhile, the international community is responding with assistance, or offers of assistance, of everything from cash to search dogs. The U.S. military is helping supply stricken communities while many nations and organizations are sending people with medical, rescue and emergency response skills.

There are also lots of stories about small, or even not-so-small, private relief organizations saying they are moving in to help. Some of this may end up being little more than moral support, symbolic really. And in such instances, there are always groups simply seeking to make money off the public’s desire to help.

The United Nations, for example, says it plan to mount no big relief effort because Japan appears to be doing a fairly good job of dealing with this catastrophe.

“United Nations action will be very targeted, according to needs. This is the most disaster-prepared country in the world,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In all of these kind of disasters, there are unfortunately those organizations that seek to make money off the it. Here’s some how-to-donate advice from the AP and the Christian Science Monitor and also how-not-to-donate advice from CBS and the website Good Intentions are Not Enough.

Global health and development expert Alanna Shaikh advises that people who want to help should simply donate to the Japanese branch of the International Red Cross. Here’s her basic argument, (based on a crisis in 2008 in Myanmar).

As I noted on Friday, and in some of today’s News Rounds links, there are actually some parts of the world in much greater need of assistance that could use much more help. These are not immediate, dramatic disasters but they are disasters nonetheless.

Disaster in Japan … and Haiti, Pakistan, Congo, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mali | 

Flickr, doegox

We are all focused on the disaster in Japan right now, as we should be.

But what about the other, bigger disasters?

The massive earthquake, tsunami and current concern about damage to a Japanese nuclear power plant are the top news stories today. The quake was huge, the fifth largest in the last century. President Obama said today the U.S. is “marshaling forces” to help Japan deal with the catastrophe.

Local relief organizations like World Vision and Mercy Corps have put the Japanese quake-tsunami on the “front page” of their websites even though it is unlikely either organization will be doing much in response. I talked to both organizations and they are standing by ready to help, but both said it is possible they will not be needed.

Japan can largely take care of itself. World Vision and Mercy Corps take care of those who can’t. Continue reading

Debate on Haiti aid grows | 

Flickr, Edyta.Materka

As Haitians struggle to respond to an explosion of cholera amid homelessness and the rubble remaining from January’s massive quake, a debate has flared over how (and even whether) to provide aid to this poor country.

This is a never-ending debate, of course, but it likely has flared up this time because of a provocative article by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Aid Spawns Backlash in Haiti.” The gist of the article (again, not a new argument) is that aid has made Haiti weak and dependent on outsiders. All the relief efforts haven’t changed much:

But as the past few months have made clear, there is little coordination among the NGOs or between the NGOs and Haitian officials. Some NGO plans don’t fit or clash outright with the plans of the government. Some are geared toward short-term relief—a classic case of giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish. More than a million people are still living in tent cities across Haiti, fueling a cholera epidemic that has killed 796 people even as NGOs have rushed to contain it. The United Nations has asked for $164 million to help combat the disease.

Continue reading

Haiti cholera outbreak prognosis unclear, and another quake feared | 

News reports out of Haiti are in a wobbly stage, some reporting that the outbreak of cholera there due to contaminated drinking water is expected to keep getting worse, while others say it’s under control.

It’s perhaps evidence of just how much chaos remains in this devastated nation.

Meanwhile, scientists are warning of the possibility of further quakes having discovered a previously unknown seismic fault that does not appear to have been relieved by the January 7.0 magnitude quake.

One of the scientists and author of the report, Andrew Freed of Purdue University, said:

“It’s locked and loaded. My concern is that we are in the beginning of new cycles of earthquakes.”