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World responds to Japan in crisis

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.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.