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Read of the Week: 'US Giving for Japan Disaster Exceeds $710 Million'

March 23, 2013

Jcie_earthquakeOn March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that devastated more than four hundred miles of Japanese coastline, swamped (and permanently disabled) the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power complex, and left more than eighteen thousand people dead and half a million displaced from their homes. According to a new report from the Japan Center for International Exchange, Americans have donated a total of $712.6 million for relief and recovery efforts in Japan in the two years since the disaster -- the most ever given by Americans in response to a disaster in a developed nation and the fifth-largest giving total ever for a disaster.

The report, US Giving for Japan Disaster Exceeds $710 Million (5 pages, HTML), notes that initial disaster relief tallies underestimated the giving of tens of thousands of Americans who, instead of donating to the usual suspects, organized their own fundraisers, as well as off-the-radar groups with connections to Japan that launched fundraising campaigns of their own. Indeed, the report argues that whereas the outpouring of charitable donations following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was magnified by the well-documented poverty of the most of the victims and survivors, the American response to the disaster in much wealthier Japan seems to have been motivated in many cases by personal and/or corporate ties -- despite the fact that more than a few disaster-relief experts and media outlets suggested that Americans' donations would be more usefully applied to "everyday disasters" in poorer developing countries than in infrastructure-rich Japan.

Now, while it's true that the way we do disaster relief in this country doesn't always ensure the most efficient distribution of resources for victims and survivors, it's also true that, as wealthy as Japan is, its nonprofit sector is relatively underfinanced. In fact, donations from Americans made a significant impact, the report argues, precisely because the funding base of Japanese nonprofits -- which did and continue to play a crucial role in relief and recovery efforts -- traditionally has been limited.

The report includes links to JCIE's searchable database of roughly $1 billion in donations and grants made by overseas organizations in support of relief and recovery efforts, as well as a handful of innovative ideas that emerged from the response. It's worth checking out.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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