Wednesday, March 16, 2011


New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom wrote this morning (March 16th) that "[m]any groups are quickly raising money in the aftermath of the disaster without really knowing how it will be spent." If the groups don't know how can the donors?

Where have we seen this before? The so-American impulse to respond philanthropically to the disaster de jour without taking time to follow the thread is once more eclipsing rational judgment. No one can deny the immense loss of human life and of community in Japan; capped by a nuclear meltdown it is surely among the worst events of recent times. I am moved by the profound suffering and by the irony of two major nuclear events in recent Japanese history. But I must admit that my first reaction was not to reach for my wallet.

Charities are in business to raise money and - one hopes - to provide services. The unseemly rush to get in the game - Google "earthquake" or "tsunami" - without much regard for what the government of Japan says it really needs is to feed the notion that every problem can be solved if you throw enough money at it, especially without having to think much about the end result.

It does appear that Japan has the resources to deal with the immediate relief crisis. What I have seen after looking at the story of multiple disasters is that the cameras pan away, the reporters leave, the charities beef up their reserves and the long term, prosaic, not very dramatic work of reconstruction and rehabilitation is generally ignored. Does anyone remember that the earthquake in Christchurch NZ was just a few weeks ago?

Disasters are visual, dramatic and anyone with a mobile phone can text a $10 gift to an established charity. Online there are a plethora of organizations of whom no one has ever heard. Millions of dollars will likely pour in - though it does appear the take will be much less than for Haiti where I have read much of the money raised has not been spent. Watching Bryan Williams last night on a "special edition" of the evening news was instructive. First visuals and stories of horror and then cut to a commercial for being sure you're ready when the moment is right.

I'm ready but maybe not for this moment.

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