Japan, Haiti, and Donor Considerations for Disaster Relief

In many ways, the two situations couldn’t be more different.

Japan is one of the richest nations in the world, quite possibly the country best prepared to handle the kind of massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the north coast on Friday.  Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere whose history of deforestation and lack of overall infrastructure, including building codes, made it especially susceptible to devastation after last January’s earthquake.

Yet, for donors who wish to help, there are important similarities to keep in mind.

The first is understanding how needs evolve on the ground and the corresponding roles of relief organizations.  The priority during the first 72 hours is search and rescue to save as many lives as possible. That is why in Japan, just as in Haiti, the emphasis has been on help from specialized first responders trained and experienced in disaster situations.

The second is how critical coordination is on the ground. In contrast to the disaster in Haiti, the Japanese government needs to be the central coordinator for both their internal relief efforts and assistance from international governments and nonprofits.

The important stage right now is relief—getting critical supplies to stranded and injured communities. These include: food, water, shelter and heat, medical care, and safety (from radiation risk or aftershocks).

For donors wanting to help, here are 4 tips to consider:

  1. Coordinated response: With the national government in the driver’s seat and uncertainty surrounding safety (aftershocks and radiation), many international relief organizations are awaiting word from the Japanese government on how they can assist given needs on the ground and gaps in internal capacity.  This will be an evolving picture and we anticipate more clarity on needs and roles over the next few days.
  2. Financial contributions. As opposed to food or clothing, relief organizations need monetary donations to quickly prepare to mobilize the supplies and staff that are available to respond to evolving needs.
  3. Orgs well-positioned for quick response. Donors should consider organizations that already have teams in the Asian-Pacific region or have the capacity and experience for fast and efficient disaster relief.
  4. Orgs that can deliver immediate needs. During the next week, anticipated needs include search and rescue, shelter and heat, emergency medical care, clean water and food access, and communication and logistics.

Here is another resource which provides The Do’s and Don’ts of Disaster Donations: https://goodintents.org/disaster/the-dos-and-donts-of-disaster-donations.