Op-Ed: How you can help Japan, and why you should

Opinion by and
March 28, 2011, 12:25 a.m.

The earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11 was the worst in the nation’s recorded history. Houses crumbled in the shaking, an ensuing tsunami ravaged everything in its wake and the projected death toll has risen into the thousands. The devastation has yet to be fully grasped.

It is easier than ever to donate to disaster relief and reconstruction organizations, especially through the Internet and mobile phones, but with that increased ease comes an increased need to fully understand how these groups distribute funds or provide services. Without this understanding, it is impossible to decide which organizations deserve your generosity. As a Japan-based anthropologist and law student with experience researching disaster relief efforts, respectively, our many friends, family and colleagues have reached out to us asking how to help.

For the majority of Americans, donating cash is the best way to go. This is especially the case today, while the plight of the Japanese people is fresh. When donating money to an industrialized nation like Japan, where doctors are highly skilled, medicine is plentiful and food is readily available from within the country, it is best to send money to local organizations. Donating ‘locally’ means minimizing fuel costs associated with sending people and materials from abroad. People on the ground will best know how to maximize the power of your dollar. Instead of donating to the American Red Cross, for example, please consider donating directly to the Japanese Red Cross.

Three other local organizations stand out for their excellence. JEN is a Japanese NGO that has much experience in disaster relief both in Japan and abroad. Their teams are already on the scene in the areas most affected. They work cooperatively with the Red Cross. AMDA is a medical NGO that has also dispatched medical teams to Tohoku. Peace Winds Japan is considered to be among the best in emergency relief and reconstruction.

These smaller NGOs are extremely skilled and experienced. They are attentive to local needs. They respond according to each situation, even in isolated areas, work flexibly in response to fast changing post-disaster conditions, and are often free of the large overhead costs or major bureaucratic constraints that may plague larger groups. Many such local NGOs remain in the region to help with reconstruction long after larger international organizations leave.

Today, relief efforts are focused on food, shelter and evacuation of those most acutely affected by nuclear radiation. Japan will have other needs in the coming months. If you cannot afford to donate now, please consider sending money to organizations that respond to these future needs. For example, the Japan Center for International Exchange has partnered with the Center for Public Resources Development in Tokyo to launch the Japan NGO Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund. Half of all funds raised will be used to support Japanese NGOs that are engaged in long-term reconstruction efforts. These will include rebuilding hospitals, schools and retirement homes.

We must continue to monitor the situation even after the media and large aid organizations have left Japan. The psychological effects of the quake will undoubtedly be severe, especially for orphaned and homeless children. Save the Children Japan will be setting up play areas for children in the Tohoku region, attempting to give such children a sense of normalcy. They have pledged to remain in the region for several months.

Japan’s reconstruction effort will take months, if not years. The Japanese need your help now, and they will need your help tomorrow, too. By knowing as much as you can about the organizations to which you donate, you can ensure that your money will be sent to those with the greatest need and with the greatest efficiency. The people of Japan are depending on you.


Aaron L. Miller, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Stanford University School on Adolescence, and Erin B. Sedloff, J.D. Candidate, UC Hastings





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