Archive for May, 2008

Where to donate for cyclone relief

It’s all over the news, we’re looking at maybe 100,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced in Burma* thanks to the cyclone (and these are not, in fact, the highest estimates). The Burmese government, demonstrating once again that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron, are blocking international aid efforts. While I wouldn’t object to them being guillotined with a dull blade, I don’t think that should be anyone’s primary concern right now. Help is needed. Money is needed. There’s a good possibility that your attempts to help will be blocked or worse, appropriated, by a bunch of intransigent military meatheads, BUT… being too paralyzed to do or donate anything at all is probably the worst of all options. So let your sympathies move you to donate, but use your head and send your money where it will do the most good.

So I’ve been perusing the internets trying to find the safest bets. This list is NOT exhaustive. These are just some suggestions and guidelines, not necessarily an authoritative guide. So I’m not absolving you of responsibility to check for yourself, just pointing out where you can start.

What to look for:

  • Look for organizations that already have people in Burma.
  • Especially, look for the words “local partners”.
  • I suspect, though I am being dismal, that giving money to US-based organizations will not be very effective. The junta will be more inclined to let in regional aid (india, thailand) than anything from the US, which has been pretty openly hostile to the government there.
  • Look for organizations that are buying food and supplies in as local a market as possible. That will save operating costs. One commenter (it’s in there somewhere) pointed out that the aid packages being put together in the US contain cooking tools that people in Burma are not familiar with and don’t know how to use, on top of not being the most efficient use of money.

Below are some organizations that seem to be fairly effective. I’m including my sources, since I’m really just getting a lot of this info from the good people commenting over at the New York Times. My personal pick would be, since they are working through the monks and temples in Burma, and those guys seem to have proven themselves quite helpful with cyclone relief efforts on the ground. But! Their website isn’t working at the moment.

from NYT article the first:

from NYT bloggy article, they have a list of organizations that are trying to help, but we don’t know how successful they are or whether they’re being let in at all. The most helpful stuff actually seems to be in the comments:

“The aid agency Direct Relief (dot org) is already in Burma, and are seeking donations to support their medical aid work there. It is one of the two featured charities that Google has up in the “support disaster relief” link.”

“Immediate help can be provided via, who funnel donations to local monasteries, thus avoiding the Junta with its possible delays and diversions of donations. The monks will distribute the donations directly to the people.”

“it would be more realistic to send relief material through channels of or in cooperation with countries like China, Thailand and India.”

“So, donate money to any relief organization (like World Vision, Red Cross, World Relief, etc.) operating in Burma. Allow them to buy the necessary recovery and reconstruction materials in the local/regional market.”

CARE has been working in Myanmar for 14 years.” (Though commenters are wondering how they can ensure that a donation there will actually go to Burma and not some other project.)

“Please add Pact’s name to your list and visit our website at We have been working in Myanmar for the past ten years, have nearly 1200 local Burmese staff on the ground, 429 of which are in the Delta working primarily in a microfinance program that is in 1500 villages. We are one of the few American organizations on the ground and have greater reach than most. We are in seven of the ten hardest hit townships and have already been twice to the Delta with UNDP to do assessments.”

Global Giving has a long list. look for the words “local partners” or organizations that are already there.

Burma-Network also has a list of charities, which has a good amount of overlap with the list I’m presenting here.

* The debate over whether to call it Burma or Myanmar goes like this:
1) Myanmar is the junta’s name for the country, call it Burma till Aung San Suu Kyii says otherwise.
2) But Burma is the name given to the nation by British colonialists anyway. Myanma (without the r) would be a more accurate name, in line with what people actually called the place 600 years ago or whatever. Locals don’t want you to call it Burma.
I say: colonialism sucks, but replacing one evil with another doesn’t solve the problem, so I’m going with the pre-junta name until a democratically elected government says otherwise, or until I meet an actual local instead of hearing it through someone who visited Burma once.

rice roundup

Businessweek recently posted an article that clearly and concisely explains what’s happening with the rising cost of rice. The entire thing is a fascinating read, addressing speculation, export, biofuel production, oil prices, and the impact of all this on food aid. Here’s the excerpt most directly relevant to Thailand:

At first blush, Thailand appears to be sitting pretty. The spot price of Thai fragrant rice is about $1,100 per ton, compared with about $320 at the end of last year. However, exporters make their contracts several months in advance of delivery, and Thai Rice Exporters Assn. President Chookiat Ophaswongse says several exporters face huge losses because they are buying rice from traders at today’s prices but delivering that rice to buyers at prices from early in the year, before the latest price spiral started. Some exporters have renegotiated, others have defaulted on their deliveries. Chookiat says higher prices will cause exports to fall 20%-25% in the second quarter, to about 780,000 tons per month, compared with the first three months of the year.

That article claims that there isn’t a global rice shortage so much as rising prices due to speculation. Exporting nations stop exporting because they’re panicked, but domestic speculators horde the stuff and make the prices rise at home anyway. But the scary thing is, there’s only not a real shortage yet. We’re consuming (or perhaps hording) more rice than we’re producing which means we’re dipping into the stockpiles. Not exactly sustainable. Prime Minister Samak has been proposing a sort of Rice OPEC, a pretty controversial proposition (exporters are liking the idea, importers are hating it, economists think it won’t be entirely effective).

It’s a bit frustrating watching people write about the debate the rice crisis from a macro-economic point of view, like some kind of abstraction, because, as usual, poor people (think rice-and-fish-sauce-for-dinner poor) will suffer the most from this. From Al Jazeera:

a rise of even a few cents can for millions mean a difference between surviving or going hungry.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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