In The News

Give2Asia Mobilizes Critical Short and Long-Term Recovery Efforts in Japan

March 16, 2011

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast has left half a million homeless, millions without food and water, and a worsening situation with a ruptured nuclear power plant requiring thousands to evacuate. Immediate relief efforts are underway for what we now know is Japan’s most devastating catastrophe since World War II ended. The Asia Foundation’s partner organization, Give2Asia, a leader in facilitating philanthropic giving to Asia, including disaster relief and recovery, launched its Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Fund to work with local partners in Japan to respond to recovery needs. In Asia speaks with Give2Asia’s Birger Stamperdahl on lessons learned from past disasters, donor response, the role of local NGOs in long-term relief, and recommendations on how to give wisely.

Q: As relief efforts in Japan move from immediate to short-term recovery, what needs do you most anticipate?

Today, the focus is clearly on immediate relief. Over 500,000 people have been displaced and are in need of shelter, food, water, and other basic necessities. We anticipate that many of these people will need temporary shelter for months, and that other basic supplies will need to continue to flow in to the affected areas.

Based on our experience in previous disasters, such as China’s Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, the kinds of programs that will be needed in the intermediate phase of recovery will be: 1) psycho-social and post-traumatic stress services for both children and adults; 2) job training and livelihood programs to help communities become sustainable again; and 3) rebuilding.

The demographics in the affected areas might point to what specific recovery projects will be needed. For example, the percentage of elderly people is high in the affected areas. What kinds of social services will the elderly need to recover? Considering the aging demographics of some of the villages destroyed, does it make sense to rebuild them? What longer-term health services will be needed as the result of radiation leaks?

Q: Give2Asia supported short and long-term relief efforts in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2008 China earthquake, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 and typhoons Ketsana and Parma in Southeast Asia, and most recently, flooding in Pakistan. What lessons from these catastrophes will be critical as you undertake recovery projects in Japan?

In each of these cases, international aid organizations provided valuable and timely assistance, especially in the immediate relief phase of the disaster. Once the relief effort was over, many of these international organizations left and local organizations needed to step in to carry out long-term recovery. Give2Asia believes strongly that local organizations need to be at the center of the response from the very beginning, as they bring the knowledge and relationships that will ensure relief and recovery activities are appropriate and effective. Despite Japan’s wealth, the NGO sector in Japan is relatively young. We see an opportunity for NGOs in Japan to play an important role in the response to this disaster and to increase their capacity in the process.

Q: What has the response from the donor community been like as the extent of the damage and number of lives lost and people left homeless emerges?

We’ve had an incredible response starting immediately last Friday, which has not let up since. All different types of donors have contacted us wanting to know how they can help. On Friday, our initial partner for the disaster was the Japan Society of Northern California, which established a fund and online giving page at Give2Asia.org. They have been fundraising within their extended community since then.

On Saturday, a group of video artists from Pixar contacted us and established the Artists Help Japan fund, which they launched at an event on Saturday evening. That fund has gone viral and they are now receiving requests from artists all over the country who wish to participate in the fundraising.

Since then, several corporations and associations have made donations, established funds and begun gift-matching programs with their employees. Among these are Adobe Systems, Advent Software, Alcatel-Lucent, BD, Newell-Rubbermaid, Qualcomm, SonicWALL, State Street, Symantec, Synopsys, AAMA, Ascend, and the Keizai Society.

To date, we have received $1.3 million in contributions and commitments from a number of individuals, corporations, and associations.

Q: How are you identifying program partners in Japan?

Our ongoing partner in Japan is the Japan NPO Center based in Tokyo. We have been in close communication with them since Friday to determine which local NGOs are working in the affected areas and where Give2Asia can be most effective. One of our existing grantee partners in Japan, Second Harvest, is working now to bring food to people displaced by the disaster, and we expect it will be a primary recipient of our immediate relief funding. We have identified several other Japanese organizations that are currently responding to the disaster, including Japanese Emergency NGOs (JEN), Saigai Volunteer Katsudo Shien Project Kaigi, Rescue Stock Yard (a disaster prevention non-profit), and Niigata Saigai (Disaster Volunteer Network). We are working with these and other Japanese organizations to obtain more information about their recovery operations and how Give2Asia can help. In addition to these groups, Give2Asia continues to network with partners in Japan to stay abreast of evolving needs and organizations that are addressing them.

Q: For the international community which is watching and wants to help, how would you recommend to give?

We’ve assembled a list of best practices for donors based on our work responding to 22 disasters over the past 10 years:

1.    Donate wisely and properly time your donation
2.    Be flexible and mindful to ensure you address local needs
3.    Avoid in-kind donations when responding to international crises
4.    Support programs that empower and involve the survivors
5.    Remember the need for long-term recovery
6.    Build back better
7.    Think about impact, not speed
8.    Support programs that strengthen local capacity and sustainability

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