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Disaster recovery is a long-term process
that requires more assistance than money

The scope of the recent three-pronged disaster in Japan makes it more difficult than usual to see how one person’s efforts can make a difference.  It’s a complex of problems that seems impossible to solve and could result in much needless dithering.

Japan, like Indonesia, is an island nation.  Before needed food, water, warm clothing and shelter can be trucked to devastated areas, both the trucks and the supplies are being delivered to ports on battleships.

This is a better-than-average use for battleships, but it does also point up the fact that disaster relief is rarely efficient, and it has many complications.  No matter how primitive the roads, it’s still more efficient to transport goods from one part of a mainland to another.

Writing a check often seems perfunctory.

We like food drives and assembling hygiene kits.  They help to involve us, make the need real, and they give children a direct lesson about what we mean by caring for others.  Is there anyone who can resist the sight of a two-year-old trying to manage a can of vegetables in each hand as he brings them to the collections site?

These activities should continue.  They serve useful purposes.  However, sometimes there is only one logical reaction to an emergency:  Send money.

We always need to be cautious about our disaster relief gifts, because when there is a large number of people donating money to something, it is irresistible to the amoral who see financial opportunities for themselves.  Those who receive telephone calls from people encouraging them to send money to them in order to speed things up, need to remember that the people who do the real work in disaster relief are not operating phone banks.

It’s important to stick with established organizations that operate around the world and have warehouses for supplies.  These groups are the first on the scene.

Websites of denominations and faith groups are good sources of information, and they often have links to organizations such as the ACT for Churches Together, Church World Service or the Red Cross.

It may seem satisfying to earmark a contribution for a specific use, but it can add another complication.  The warehouses need re-stocking, and if a check says it must be spent in Japan, legal requirements keep it from being used to re-stock the agency’s warehouse outside Japan.

The same organizations are also still working on long-term recovery for all the disasters that continue to have needs but lack coverage by the major media.

Disaster relief may not always be highly efficient.  It’s complicated, messy, and frequently heart-breaking for those on the scene.  However, as many of them tell us, it is also deeply rewarding.  We must take their word, pray for all involved in the process and continue to make the work possible.

The fact that Japan is a highly developed country could require new thinking. 

Normally, Japan takes care of its own emergencies.  It has the resources, organization and people trained to take care of anything short of what has just happened. Having trained people to work with is a plus for relief workers, but a new kind of coordination is required to deliver basic services while avoiding trampling on sensibilities of those who know the country best but have been traumatized by the disaster.

Experts in the field of nuclear power are already consulting with the government and colleagues in Japan. 

Other parts of the high tech economy of Japan could also find themselves in need of similar help.  There may come a time soon when high-tech companies around the world will find themselves going beyond donating for immediate disaster relief to contributing their expertise for the long-term economic recovery of Japan.

Nancy Minard - Editorial Team