Thursday, March 17, 2011

Emergencies and Donations

The wonderful blogs listed on the right have done quite a good job of advising readers to hold of in donate to Japan's devastating earthquake.

While Japan needs to start significant and costly rebuilding program, it is also extremely well placed to do so; Japan is a strong developed economy and expert and disaster management. Japan is currently refusing help from almost everyone except a few highly specialized NGOs.

In comparison, this week the United Nations published a list of forgotten distasters, all of which are worse than the Japanese earthquake, and is asking for $3bn for these causes.

Media attention is one of the key drivers of private donations and pressure for government assistance. The reasons for some disasters being neglected and others receiving over-funding is discussed here, earthquakes and tsunamis are sudden isolated events, provide dramatic and vivid images of destruction, and    have an element of unpredictability which leads to donors thinking about the victims and innocents. In contrast, most of the UNs forgotten disasters are typically slow onset famine and drought, conflict where the victims might seem less innocent, and occurring in far off African nations where reporting is difficult and empathy harder to trigger.

The conclusion? Don't earmark funds for a specific disaster, allow your trusted organisation to decide who needs your donation most. I recommend this excellent post on disaster donation.

Update: If absolutely must donate to Japan, Good Intentions Are Not Enough points us to the right guys:
From what I understand, there are two organizations in Japan that help coordinate nonprofit work.
  • JANIC (Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation) which, according to their website, is a network organization of Japanese civil society groups.
  • The Japan Platform, which, according to their website, is an international emergency humanitarian aid organization made up of a consortium of 32 Japanese NGOs, the business community, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
Together they’ve issued a joint appeal (pdf) which explains how disaster response is coordinated in Japan and what the current needs are.
According to JANIC “At the moment, there are 28 NGOs among our members that are assisting the disaster victims in various ways. JANIC is now accepting contributions to support the activities of these NGOs.” And the Japan Platform has an update as to how its members are responding to the disaster.
JANIC’s website includes this statement “Please note that JANIC will retain 15% of the total amount of the donation to cover the operational cost for administering this relief fund.” I do not have a problem with that. Coordinating nonprofits, especially after a disaster, is important but often under-funded work.
For people wanting to support Japanese organizations in the recovery efforts, either of these organizations seem like a good option. Both now have websites up in English which include ways to donate.

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