Updated March 16, 2011. If you have been paying attention to the media, you most likely saw terrifying footage of tsunami waves destroying much of the eastern coastal areas of Japan, particularly Miyagi prefecture. Friday’s earthquake measuring 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale triggered massive waves that leveled homes and farms, left thousands missing, forced an evacuation of the area surrounding a nuclear power plant, and triggered estimates of ten thousand killed. The natural effects extended to the west coast of the United States, where strong currents affected some ports and waves forced evacuations of some areas.
In addition, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was affected by the disaster, with some injuries to employees after an explosion and a call for surrounding residents to evacuate.
When devastation hit Haiti in 2009, Americans wanted to help those affected by devastation. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals worked hard to take advantage of the good will. Soon after the disaster, there were many websites collecting funds purportedly for assistance. Unfortunately, many were simply scams, designed to take people’s money. There will surely be similar websites designed to trick well-meaning individuals into parting with their money.
If you plan to support the relief efforts in Japan, consider sending money to legitimate, international organizations that focus on humanitarian aid during crises. Don’t give food or supplies; it’s best to let the aid organizations decide what materials they need and when they need it. As with any charity, though, the exact dollar you send today may not go directly to Japan. Many organizations already have funds committed to relief. Your dollar will go to replenishing the money that is currently being spent.
The American Red Cross is already on the scene in Hawaii and the U.S. west coast, and has pledged financial support to the Japanese Red Cross. You can donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting “redcross” to number 90999. If you prefer to make a larger contribution, visit the American Red Cross donation center. “Your gift to the American Red Cross will support our disaster relief efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. On those rare occasions when donations exceed American Red Cross expenses for a specific disaster, contributions are used to prepare for and serve victims of other disasters.”
Japan sits on the intersection of three tectonic plates and is thus no stranger to earthquakes. In fact, Japan’s infrastructure, at least in the cities, is particularly suited to withstand most major earthquakes, more so than the rest of the world, including California. The death toll could have been much higher with less sophisticated engineering, but this is no comfort to those displaced, hurt, or killed by the tsunami. As Japan is well-prepared, the need for international assistance is not as great as it would be for a developing nation.
UPDATED. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has been assessing the situation, and is now providing mobile clinics on the ground in Japan. “Although injured people had been evacuated by helicopter from these areas, many elderly people were still there, some of whom were dehydrated, the coordinator said… MSF is now identifying specific needs — including oxygen, non-food items, medical items and water — and will work with Japanese authorities to assist these populations.” The organization is currently not soliciting donations for this effort, they are drawing upon previous donations that have not been earmarked for a specific cause. If you’d still like to donate to MSF, in the United States, visit the organization’s website.
Oxfam has yet to determine whether Japan has a need for this international organization’s assistance. Usually, Oxfam reserves its support for areas of the world that would not be able to support recovery on their own. Japan is a wealthy notation, and has been charitable when other nations needed assistance. Many governments, including that of the United States, have pledged support, but unlike recent disasters, Japan has the ability to handle much of the recovery.
Keep the above in mind when considering your donations. Give only to organizations that have 501(c)3 status — not because of the tax deduction, but because of the requirement of public accountability.