The following is information compiled by Prof.Laurence Simon at Brandeis University to help with your decision on how to best use your resources in helping out. There are some lessons the disaster response community has learned over the years. Here is a quick listing: 1. Send cash. Every seaport and airport in the region will quickly be jammed with relief supplies, many of them of marginal value at best. The airport at Colombo, Sri Lanka is already nearly paralyzed. Cash is needed by relief agencies to purchase needs locally (e.g. clothing). They do this to bolster local economies rather than hurt them with imported supplies. Where supplies are not available (e.g. medicines), they are purchased abroad and flown in by the military or at significant expense. 2. Contribute for reconstruction and development, not just relief. The emergency period will be over in the next couple of weeks. Many of these needs are being met by international organizations, donor countries, and by the thousands of local volunteers. While the emergency needs are great, even greater, far greater, will be the need for funds with which to help rebuild communities and livelihoods. Unfortunately, many of the relief agencies that flood into countries after major disasters do not stay beyond the emergency period. It is important to earmark funds for reconstruction and development in the affected communities and to select agencies that will be there for the long haul. 3. Select agencies that know the countries. Many of the relief agencies that are listed or advertising for contributions have never set foot in the affected countries. Unless they are very specialized agencies (e.g. Doctors Without Borders) many will waste time and money trying to figure out how to operate. The best chance to help is to support those organizations with local offices already operational. 4. Consider local organizations. Most Americans will prefer to contribute to known US or European organizations. That is fine. If you wish, you can contribute directly to local organizations in the countries affected. The difficulty however is knowing which organizations are reliable and efficiently getting the money to them. Most do not have Internet sites set up for contributions like the major US and European agencies. Sending checks or wiring funds is unreliable to many affected countries. Where you can contribute directly, the money will go a long way though you will not get a US tax deduction for it. 5. Most importantly, contribute to organizations that aim to lessen vulnerability, not just help rebuild poverty. While rich tourist beach hotels were also affected, a large percentage of those affected are poor people living on flood plains, poor fishing communities, or coastal slums. It is not enough to help people rebuild shanties. Every "natural" disaster is also an opportunity to help communities lessen their vulnerability. The most progressive international relief agencies (e.g. the Oxfams, American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, etc.) know the conditions that bred such vulnerability and will work with local government and people to change those conditions. I will append a list of suggested agencies to this letter. Here is a short list of relief and development agencies that I know well and recommend. Oxfam America and Oxfam UK. International NGOs working in several of the affected countries. Oxfam UK has had a field office in eastern Sri Lanka for many years. You can contribute on-line at www.Oxfam.org.uk. If you wish a US tax deduction, contribute to Oxfam America at www.oxfamamerica.org. Doctors Without Borders. International NGO working in Indonesia and may extend operations to other countries. You can contribute on-line at www.msf.org/ Sarvodaya. Sri Lankan NGO with a vast network in the affected communities. We have just set up an internet site for donations. Go to www.sarvodaya.org. Of all Sri Lankan organizations, I highly recommend Sarvodaya. Mennonite Central Committee. US NGO working in Sri Lanka. You can contribute on-line at www.mcc.org/ Other reputable organizations include CARE and Catholic Relief Services. Five Questions to Ask Before you Give Here are five simple questions to ask any aid organization before you give. Since aid agencies are inundated with phone calls, I have included above a much abbreviated list of organizations that I trust. 1. Has the organization worked in the affected countries before? Hundreds of organizations in the US collect funds after major disasters. Many do not have the on-the-ground experience that is critical for timely and wise utilization of the funds. Many show up in devastated nations and are not familiar with local organizations, customs or terrain. They will flounder. The best organizations to which to contribute are those who were operational in the country before the disaster. The exception to this would be specialized organizations like Doctors Without Borders. 2. Will the organization merely contribute your funds to another aid group? Constituencies often contribute funds through their own channels which collect and transfer the funds to operational organizations. If you use such channels, be sure that no overheads are deducted for such pass-through grants. Overheads are legitimate when an organization is directly involved in fielding staff or materials. 3. Will the organization stay in the affected country after the emergency period? Believe it or not, most private aid organizations leave about the same time the cameras do. The emergency period is short, but the period for reconstruction is very long and much more costly. It will be years before the millions of people made homeless will be housed decently and their communities and livelihoods made whole again. 4. What experience does your organization have in development? Many organizations can provide building materials. But the aim is not to rebuild poverty, but to work with local communities to attain a higher standard of living. Expatriate organizations need to be able to work with local government and communities alike, speak their languages, understand their cultures, and patiently help them plan. The best organizations to which to contribute are those with an understanding of the causes of vulnerability and poverty. 5. Will your organization permit you to earmark your contribution? No matter how small your contribution may be, it is important that you earmark it for long-term development in the affected communities of one or more of the countries. Despite what they say now about the need, the capacity of local institutions to absorb all aid funds quickly is quite limited. Earmarking encourages the aid organization to begin now to make long-range plans. It also lets the organization know that you prefer that your funds are wisely spent over a longer period than hastily spent on efforts that may be duplicating those of others.