Donating to Japan, cont.

By Felix Salmon
March 16, 2011
Stephanie Strom has a fantastic article in the NYT today, which actually reports out the whole issue of why it's silly to donate money to Japan.

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Stephanie Strom has a fantastic article in the NYT today, which actually reports out the whole issue of why it’s silly to donate money to Japan. Go read the whole thing, but here’s some choice bits:

The Japanese Red Cross, for example, has said repeatedly since the day after the earthquake that it does not want or need outside assistance. But that has not stopped the American Red Cross from raising $34 million through Tuesday afternoon in the name of Japan’s disaster victims…

The Japanese government so far has accepted help from only 15 of the 102 countries that have volunteered aid, and from small teams with special expertise from a handful of nonprofit groups…

Many of the groups raising money in Japan’s name are still uncertain to whom or to where the money will go…

Holden Karnofsky, a founder of GiveWell, a Web site that researches charities, said he was struck by how quickly many nonprofit groups had moved to create ads using keywords like “Japan,” “earthquake,” “disaster,” and “help” to improve the chances of their ads showing up on Google when the words were used in search queries.

“Charities are aggressively soliciting donations around this disaster, and I don’t believe these donations necessarily are going to be used for relief or recovery in Japan because they aren’t needed for that,” Mr. Karnofsky said. “The Japanese government has made it clear it has the resources it needs for this disaster.”

The NYT has, smartly, disabled commenting on the article — people get really emotional about this subject, and can be astonishingly bad at understanding what you’re saying. (No, Bill O’Reilly, I did not tell the government not to send aid; I did not say that there wasn’t much relief in Haiti, and I certainly didn’t say that we shouldn’t send money because “we don’t have any money, we’re bankrupt.”) But Strom’s message is important — the Japanese Red Cross is very explicitly and repeatedly saying it neither wants nor needs the money that the American Red Cross is raising for it. So if you’re going to donate money to a desperate cause, there are much better ways of doing so.


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Simply Great! Thank you!

Posted by VictoriaLL | Report as abusive

You go bro!
People still watch Bill?! O really???

Posted by onomatopoeia | Report as abusive

The article also made me think about my own actions in forming a group to organize information related to the disaster. Is this effort really necessary?

In the interest of accurate information, the below details the Japanese Red Cross’ position. It has set up a fund to accept donations that will then go to a govt. superfund. The resulting pool of money will then be directly distributed to disaster victims.

So on one hand, the Japanese red cross itself does not need funding for its operations, but on the other hand donating will directly help the victims of the disaster. Whether the Japanese affected actually need this money or not is up for debate. On one hand, they may have lost everything they own. On the other, they may have had insurance on their house perhaps.

From the Japanese Red Cross website cms4_00002070.html

We heartily appreciate your kind offer of donation.

If you want to donate money to the affected population of earthquake and tsunami, please contact your national Red Cross/Crescent society, which may have already launched fundraising campaign within your country.

If your national society doesn’t collect donation or you wish to send your donations directly to the Japanese Red Cross Society, please direct your fund to the following bank account. If you need the receipt of your fund, please state so clearly in the comment section of the bank transfer order. All the fund received under this account will be transferred to the Distribution Committee, which is formed around the local government of the disaster-affected prefecture and to be distributed directly among the affected population of earthquake and tsunami,

 Name of Bank: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
 Name of Branch: Ginza
 Account No.: 8047670 (Ordinary Account)
 Payee Name: The Japanese Red Cross Society
 Payee Address: 1-1-3 Shiba-Daimon Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN

Thank you once again for your generous offer. It is surely the source of encouragement for the affected population in Japan.

Posted by ianmlatte | Report as abusive

Thanks for asking the “dark” question that I was asking. It would be nice to be condemned because you weren’t compassionate instead of being judged because you’re providing facts and taking a rational decision on the best way to help people.

Posted by philamisan | Report as abusive

Well actually, there is a specific cause that you can donate money to: NEWS/SBA_news_5.htm — you have to use Google translate (or similar).

Shigeru Ban, a well known architect around the world, is trying to gear up to make temporary partitions for those who were dislocated to gyms and open structures after their homes were destroyed. These temporary partitions bring some normalcy and privacy to an otherwise uncomfortable and despairing situation for displaced residents. We’ve seen from Haiti, that rebuilding efforts, even slightly less temporary housing, takes a long time. These rapidly erected partitions help bridge that gap.

Worth considering.

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

I believe the primary thing that Japan has been looking for (other than the usual worldwide responce of victim location teams etc.) is the heavy logistics capability that the US military can provide on a moments notice. No Red Cross donations can provide heavy helicopter and amphibious craft capacity with logistical support from aircraft carriers etc.

It will not surprise me if Japan elects to create a couple of Marines-like amphibious assault units as part of their SDF (say two regiment or battalion sized units) complete with support ships that can be used for sea to shore rescue and logistics operations. They could locate each of the units at opposite ends of the island chain so that one of them would always have unrestricted ability to mobilize for another earthquake and tsunami.

Posted by ErnieD | Report as abusive

Agree with ianmlatte. The latest update from UN OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), dated 16 March, states that the Government of Japan welcomes foreign donations, and asks UN member states to donate through the Japanese Red Cross.

Posted by globalnomad | Report as abusive

Don’t know about Red Cross and their own issues.
But Japan does need donation and all kinds of support.


Half of Japan is severely damaged.
Japan was rich. It “WAS”.

And those northern areas are relatively poor areas
with many older people.

Do not stop your support.
Think about children and elders.
What they have build has all lost.

There are many many organizations other than Red Cross.
Many of them are tax deductible.

Please choose the organizations carefully.
And again, please help Japan now.
Do not stop the circle of help.
It could be you and your family.

Posted by tomk | Report as abusive

How dare you highjack the Japanese crisis and launch into a holier-than-thou tirade on the pros and cons of targeted charity.

Shame on you Salmon, for such crass grandstanding at a time of great suffering and shame on Reuters for allowing your trash to be published on their site.

Posted by JamesAWC | Report as abusive

Okay, then–if we shouldn’t donate money, then how can we help Japan? You can’t expect people to just sit by and do nothing during a crisis like this.

Posted by redcrest | Report as abusive

Disaster relief is more about manpower and infrastructure, in the wake of an event that disrupts and destroys both.

I’m sure donated funds will be welcome — but it will be months before they actually make a difference. In the meantime, relief organizations are making do with whatever they already have available.

That isn’t a reason not to donate.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Hey felix, what is your problem with japanese people? They dont deserve life as much as your white behind?

Posted by Radelta | Report as abusive


With all due respect (and as someone whose wife comes from Iwate prefecture) you should know that while Japan has rich people, that doesn’t mean their wealth is getting to those who need it.

You are an economist, right? You understand (do I presume too much?) that the invisible hand of many independent players can achieve things that even governments cannot.

As a hardline statist, perhaps it goes against your religion that many small and creative organizations (such as the sock guy) can identify and solve tons of problems before the government can get its pants on, but that is the reality. Not because of money but because of free markets.

In New Orleans, the situation was immeasurably worsened because self-important people took ‘control’ when a hive-like approach was needed.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

If you view the link to the NYT article, you will see it is citing info from the IFRC, so it is not a racist or media conspiracy. Either there is confusion about “welcoming” vs. “needing” donations, or perhaps the initial position of “welcoming” has morphed into “needing” as the situation has become more dire.

Posted by dc9992011 | Report as abusive

Just to let you know, the Red Cross is only one organization of many others. There’s a need for food and water in the affected areas.

Posted by DaveWinkler | Report as abusive

Mr. Salmon, I understand and generally agree with your notions here. However, please make sure your words fit what you really want to say, and don’t just intend to incite, e.g., using the word “silly” when referring to donations. The inference and stigma attached to silliness is meant only to hurt, and though I don’t believe that is your intention, you have still relayed that message.

Posted by flerg777 | Report as abusive