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

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

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 If you wish a US tax deduction, contribute to Oxfam
America at

Doctors Without Borders. International NGO working in Indonesia and
may extend operations to other countries. You can contribute on-line

Sarvodaya. Sri Lankan NGO with a vast network in the affected
communities. We have just set up an internet site for donations. Go
to Of all Sri Lankan organizations, I highly
recommend Sarvodaya.

Mennonite Central Committee. US NGO working in Sri Lanka. You can
contribute on-line at

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

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