For a week I’ve been mesmerized by the images of the tsunamis in Japan. I’m not so much concerned about the nuclear (in Texas, that’s “nukular”) stuff that is apparently drifting down onto us here in SoCal. After all, I got steady, healthy doses of radiation growing up at the eastern edge of the Midwest, thanks to fallout from the aboveground bomb tests in Nevada and the discharge from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. In fact, I’ve been feeling that my isotope count is a little low these past few years, and I could use a booster shot. Bring it on. We’re capturing spare isotopes in the pool, too, so that we can immerse ourselves in them after the weather heats up. Come on over if you want to recapture that glow.
But those debris-choked waves of utter destruction? Terrifying. I will say that I am impressed that the news media without exception (although, on principle, I don’t check the bozos on Fox) are refraining from speculation about how many people must actually be dead in that cataclysm. It’s the most impressive restraint the media have exercised since their tacit refusal to report Donald Rumsfeld’s obvious insanity. I do fault the media for focusing on the more dramatic but less threatening problems at the nuclear energy station. While that minor drama plays out, there are uncounted thousands who are dead, more who are injured or ailing, and scores of thousands who are homeless, hungry, and lack water, food, shelter and medication.
As always, one wonders what one can do.
Even though the government of Japan is experiencing massive debt, it’s still the 3rd largest economy in the world, home of many of the world’s most profitable and massive industries. The government doesn’t need our personal money, and if they need funds, they’ll get it through official channels. They will eventually clear out billions of tons of debris and build new roads, schools, power lines, sewers, water treatment plants, harbors, airports, and all that makes up a city. They’ll be even deeper in debt, but they’ll do it.
An unending variety of specialized charities will promise to bring new housing or warm clothes or bibles or food or school books to the devastated cities.
The only problem is that if those specialized organizations run into roadblocks, or show up with 10,000 blankets after the Red Cross has already distributed 500,000 blankets, the blankets you send might go unused or be hocked on the black market by drug dealers in Rio or Kazakhstan.
This is the time for international agencies. It’s important to remember that at the same time that untold thousands of our fellow humans are suffering in Japan, there is still hardship in Christchurch, New Zealand; Haiti; Eastern Australia; Cote d’Ivoire, and a score of other places in the world. Large international charities provide a global view of need, and can direct their resources on a vast scale.
I’ll repeat the message that I relayed just over a year ago from President Clinton in his role as U.N. Special Envoy to the earthquake in Haiti: we must not think we can help with donations of shoes or blankets or canned goods. The roads and harbors and airports of northern Japan have been destroyed. There is no infrastructure to ship hard goods there. Relief agencies need purchasing power to get thousands of tons of water and food and medical supplies delivered there. Later, we will be able to donate goods, but our cash can save lives now.
Two organizations that operate on a global scale are the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. These organizations reliably report the disbursement of their funds and seek to maximize the percentage of their donations that reach people in need. Your specific donation to these and other international relief organizations may not reach the elderly citizen whose house in Miyagi Prefecture was destroyed last week. It may, instead, help a farmer whose livelihood was destroyed in the hurricane in Queensland, Australia, or provide medical care in southeast Asia to the area struck by the massive tsunami there. But, these organizations attempt to balance the force of donations against the weight of need at points of crisis across the globe.
These are just two examples. International relief organizations can assure that a maximum percentage of your donation will reach points of critical need as quickly as possible.
Just imagine …