Something unimaginably horrible has happened in Japan and we all want to help. The question is, how? What’s the best way to give in a disaster like this? I’d argue that right now, we wait.
First, let’s talk about what not to do. All the usual good-giving-after-disaster guidelines apply to this disaster in Japan. Don’t send used – or new – stuff; giving money is always better than paying to ship goods. Don’t go to Japan to be a set of hands to rebuild the country. Don’t adopt orphans or support establishment of new orphanages. Don’t donate to organizations that sprang up overnight in response to the disaster, or ones that solicit you by phone. Don’t support donations of baby formula, or donate formula.
And what we do? Wait a little. My heart hurts for Japan right now, but I don’t see a useful way to give right now. Japan is a wealthy, developed country and it is still in its immediate recovery phase. It needs search and rescue teams – and is getting them, from its own preparedness efforts and from other governments – and it needs immediate support to the people affected. There is no way to move money fast enough right now to provide immediate support to survivors.
There are, as far as I can tell, no international relief NGOs active in Japan. There is no real there would be – Japan isn’t a developing country that depends on relief work from overseas. The international NGOs in Japan are geared at fundraising and support work outside Japan. If Washington, DC had an earthquake tomorrow, the Doctors Without Borders office couldn’t set up an emergency clinic in its corporate headquarters, because the people who work in DC aren’t the ones with that skill set. The same is true for Japan.
The key word there is “right now.” It is going to take a long, long time to restore Japan after this catastrophe. We don’t have to help today in order to help. Our help will be a lot more useful in a couple of months, when Japanese organizations have a sense of what they need.