Donating money to support disaster relief efforts always seems like a good idea. Money is fungible. People on the ground can use money to buy whatever they really need. You don’t have to figure out what their needs might be. Money is fast—an instantaneous wire transfer versus shipping. And, it’s easy to donate money. Sometimes it’s buying a T-shirt (as my son did) or buying ‘Songs for Japan’ from iTunes or specifying a dollar amount and giving your credit card number to a relief organization.
American citizens, big celebrities, and major corporations have donated millions, earmarked to support relief efforts in Japan. It’s an expression of the humanitarian values Americans have.
But what if money is not what Japan needs or wants?
Japan has turned down 87 of 102 offers of aid from different countries, NPR reports. Several commentators have pointed out that Japan is a rich country and doesn’t need the money.
Giving unrestricted funds to a relief agency may actually help more. “Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places,” writes Felix Salmon. “We are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict.” Often, he says, “the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.”
But this conflicts with the desire to do something for a specific catastrophe. If Japan doesn’t need cash, what do we do with the need to reach out and help?
Have you given? In what form?
How should people respond?
Please, Comment below.
(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)