Japan faces what may be its greatest test since World War II in recovering from something that no other nation has confronted – the simultaneous effects of a massive earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear emergency.
While the death toll is substantial – expected to exceed 10,000 – it doesn't compare to the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster last year in Haiti, where an earthquake claimed more than 300,000 lives. Nevertheless, aid is pouring in from around the world as Japan begins a massive recovery effort, including dealing with the nearly 500,000 people who have been displaced.
For those wanting to help, the Center for International Disaster Information offers the following advice: "Financial contributions provide immediate assistance and allow professional relief organizations to purchase exactly what is most urgently needed by disaster victims."
But, before taking out your wallet to donate, you may want to investigate a bit. Criminals sometimes exploit natural disasters for their own financial gain. The FBI cautions Americans to beware of phony charities and other scams. It warns, in particular, that revealing personal information to unknown sources may result in identity theft. Solicitations that arrive by e-mail may also be fraudulent.
Even when a charity is authentic, experts say that you still need to do research to make sure that the money will be well spent. "People should not let their emotions take over when they decide where to donate," says Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. Those seeking to assist the Japanese should "wait and see" which charities are most effective and donate only to those groups with experience in the region and a direct connection to relief efforts there, he says.
Here is a list of some reputable charities offering on-the-ground assistance in Japan:
CARE will be delivering relief items (such as toilet paper, water, and food) to victims in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. To support CARE, call 1-800-521-CARE or donate online at care.org.
International Medical Corps has sent an emergency response team that is currently offering health-care services in Japan. To donate, go to the Corps' website (internationalmedicalcorps.org) or call 1-800-481-4462.
The Japanese Red Cross will be clearing debris, assisting with nuclear decontamination, and feeding those in need. You can donate to these projects via the American Red Cross by giving online at redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. To give a $10 gift through your cell phone, text "RedCross" to 90999.
To find more organizations like these, refer to interaction.org, which offers an extensive list of humanitarian groups operating in Japan. If you'd like to know more about an aid organization, you can look it up online at Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). Also find a list of active charities at CSMonitor.com/japanhelp.