Japan: “Cutting Through the Noise” – Effective donor help during the immediate relief phase

Since our last blog post, Japan, Haiti, and Donor Considerations for Disaster Relief, we have received many inquiries from donors wishing to help. In this post, we outline the questions donors should ask, the capabilities to look for in a nonprofit, and an example of an organization well-positioned to deliver help in Japan now.

What are the most critical needs on the ground?

With search and rescue for survivors winding down, the main emphasis for the next few weeks will be on basic survival needs:

  • Clean water, food, shelter, and emergency medical care. For example, the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report has noted snow, rain, and extreme cold weather conditions that are complicating relief efforts and leaving people vulnerable.
  • Safety (from radiation and aftershocks) is also critical but will be addressed by the Japanese government, who is enlisting assistance from an international team of technical advisers.

What are the gaps in local capacity for meeting these needs?

More than 100 international governments and international organizations have offered assistance already. Several have sent specialty teams when requested (e.g., search and rescue). The Japanese government will request additional assistance in areas where it cannot respond itself.

What capabilities are needed to address these gaps effectively?

While it is not clear yet what skills will be needed to fill gaps in local capacity, and hence which organization will be best positioned to respond, characteristics of effective organizations in disaster response include:

  • Expertise and track record in disaster response
  • Organizations with know-how and teams in Japan or the Pacific region able to quickly mobilize staff and supplies.

Which nonprofits have the capabilities required?

The Japanese Red Cross is an example of an organization well-positioned to deliver what is needed:

  • It is already on the ground.
  • It has experience and know-how in Japan and can mobilize local populations who know how to get things done in Japan quickly and efficiently.
  • It can immediately get local communities involved in rebuilding.

Here are excerpts from the most recent Situation Reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

3/15/11: “The Japanese Red Cross has also deployed 95 medical teams, with a total of 735 people, including doctors and nurses. The National Society set up field clinics and is operating mobile health clinics, providing first aid, medical, health and psychosocial support. The Red Cross has almost 2,400 nurses trained to give psychosocial support. Volunteers continue to distribute relief items, ensuring displaced people are offered hot meals, clearing debris and providing medical transportation. The IFRC maintains a pre-positioned stock of relief items for up to 20,000 families in the region which can be dispatched if requested.

All of the Japanese Red Cross branches are equipped with special equipment to deal with nuclear, biological or chemical disasters. In addition, there is a specialist team at Nagasaki Red Cross hospital, which remains on standby and ready to receive patients if required, as part of the Government’s nuclear accident plan.”

3/16/11: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating all offers of assistance. The Government has restricted space capacity to store aid materials and limited transportation means to deliver assistance to the affected areas. Therefore, any assistance provided must also be delivered by the donating organisation to the affected areas. The Government welcomes financial donations and asks Member States to donate through the Japanese Red Cross.”

Donations can be made to the Japanese Red Cross in the following way:

Once there is a clearer picture of unmet needs and internal gaps, then it will be easier to identify additional organizations and skill sets needed for an effective response.