Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Relief


An 8.9 magnitude earthquake shook Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011 followed by many aftershocks and a destructive tsunami. The death toll has surpassed 18,000. 33-foot high tsunami waves hit the northern port of Sendai. Waves surged across farmland, sweeping away buildings, crops, vehicles, triggering fires and complications at nuclear power plants. Other countries with Pacific coasts were also on high alert for tsunami damage.

Many donors understandably feel an urgency to help victims of this disaster, but it may be wise to wait until charities assess what their role will be in these efforts. As a wealthy industrialized nation, Japan has disaster response measures in place and its government and military will coordinate and provide much of the necessary relief. The United Nations and the United States government are also mobilizing support for the relief effort in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific.

According to Oxfam-Japan Executive Director Akiko Mera, “The Japanese state has the means to reach 99% of the population, but there will always be some who need more specific assistance.” Since the government has the means to deal with the immediate crisis, donors may wish to wait and contribute to the groups that are able to assist with the intermediate and long-term needs of surviving victims. Many people have been displaced or have lost their livelihoods. Ongoing assistance will be required to relocate and retrain people, and also to provide psychological counseling for traumatized survivors.

On the day of the tsunami, the director of Emergency Response for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Gillian Dunn, issued the following statement: "Once we know more, including what the Japanese government requests from the international community, we'll be able to better assess a possible response. Japan is well equipped as a responder, and this may be an instance where aid organizations are not asked to respond in large numbers. We'll also have to see what tsunami damage might occur in other countries, including small Pacific islands."

CharityWatch, a leading charity watchdog that issues letter grade (A+ to F) ratings of nonprofit groups, announces its top-rated list of charities currently involved—or mobilized to provide assistance if it is required—in the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan and possibly elsewhere in the Pacific. CharityWatch identifies the following charities that receive an “A” or “B” grade based on the portion of their budget going to program services and their fundraising efficiency. Contact the organizations below for information on specific relief operations now underway.

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Top-rated charities perform favorably in relation to CharityWatch benchmarks: 
1) A charity should spend at least 75% of its budget on program services. 
2) Charities should spend no more than $25 to raise $100.

Contact your favorite charities to find out if they provide the specific types of aid that you would like to fund, e.g., emergency relief, health care, infrastructure development, education, etc.


  • As with any charitable contribution, Americans wanting to help relief efforts in Japan and the Pacific should send contributions to only those charities with an established track record of helping people in this region.

  • Donors should be wary of unsolicited emails and text messages from individuals claiming to be victims of the disaster. CharityWatch advises against giving directly to such individuals and urges donors to contribute to charities involved in disaster relief efforts. The charities are better equipped to identify individual victims and direct assistance and aid appropriately.

  • As always, exercise precaution when donating online. To ensure that the website is legitimate, verify that the organization's website address is the exact same address that is displayed in your browser's address bar. Even the slightest variation (such as the use of underscores instead of dashes between words) may indicate an imposter. If there is any doubt, call the charity to confirm the correct website address. It is best to manually type in the organization's website address in the address bar because simply clicking a link in an email or on an unfamiliar website may take you to a fraudulent website.

  • Look for a padlock icon (your browser may use another symbol) on the bottom right hand corner of your screen to determine whether a site is secure for credit card donations. If there is any concern about the site's legitimacy or security, call the charity. Some charities may use an outside Internet credit card vendor to process credit card donations. Again, the donor should verify this before contributing online.

  • Due to the magnitude of this disaster, it is important to be especially aware that disreputable, fly-by-night “charities” are set up to take advantage of the public’s generosity.

The best way to help is by sending a check. Cash donations enable charities to buy the most needed type of food, medicine, clothing, shelter materials and other supplies. By buying relief products locally or regionally, charities can reduce shipping costs and more rapidly deliver assistance. Before sending any goods, first contact the charity to find out if they are appropriate and if it will be cost effective to distribute them. For example, after the 2004 Asian tsunami, boxes of donated winter coats, scarves and fuzzy hats, completely useless items in tsunami stricken nations with tropical climates, were sent to these nations.

Related Charities

American Red CrossB+
Church World ServiceA-
Direct Relief & Direct Relief FoundationA
Doctors Without Borders USAA
Habitat for Humanity International (National Office)B+
International Medical CorpsA
International Rescue CommitteeA
Mercy CorpsA
Operation USAA-
Salvation Army-Central TerritoryB+
Salvation Army-Eastern TerritoryA-
Salvation Army-Southern TerritoryA-
Salvation Army-Western TerritoryA-
Save the ChildrenA-
World VisionA-

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