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tsunami aftershocks

For myself, what I am mostly feeling is the slightly sick irrational guilt you feel when a horrible thing you have dreamed about, or thought about, actually happens. I often dream of giant waves, strange apocalyptic dreams that can't really be called nightmares, as they seem to come from a place beyond fear. I used to think they couldn't possibly be Tsunamis. But now I have eyewitness accounts. I dream tsunamis. I wonder why?

Beyond that, I'm practical as ever, and will endeavour to work through a few questions I've seen raised on other journals about donating aid to emergencies.

1. What about all the other crises in the world? Why isn't anyone doing something about them? Yep, we live in a world plagued by catastrophes natural, man-made, and various combinations of the above. For a very small subsample, visit Oxfam's emergencies page, where you can see what's being done about earthquakes, typhoons, plagues of locusts and more. Fortunately, there are Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs) all over the world working to minimise harm, build capacity and provide humanitarian relief. Read the pages in some detail and you'll catch some of the names of the local groups -- though the big names do a lot of work getting the news out and the money in it's often these groups doing the actual delivery, as they're the best placed to know local needs, conditions and sensitivities.

2. Why are we so concerned about this crisis? What about the Sudan War? Millions of people die there and we don't care. Natural crises tend to evoke more sympathy than wars. This is pretty normal, really; it's hard to feel that partcipants in a war are innocent victims in the same way as people who have suffered a natural disaster. There's also the problem of people only wanting to help the victims and not the aggressors. Still, you're more or less right. The UN estimate on the Sudan Conflict stands at 70,000 dead and 1.7 million homeless, never mind the fact that the entire population in the affected areas is in constant danger of violence, rape, abduction and death. I don't like to pull comparisons, but that sounds pretty disastrous to me. If you want to give to the Sudan Emergency instead (or as well), please do.

3. What difference is my £5 going to make against something on this scale? Let's look at some low-cost high-impact emercency aid items. Water purification chemicals. Sealable water buckets. Sanitary towels. Soap. You can get a lot of soap for £5. All these things help reduce disease and support the emergency sanitation work being done by the NGOs, thereby reducing the risk of disease finishing off what the tsunami began. Also, add together a few peoples' £5 and you quite quickly start to hit significant money.

4. Yes, but is my money really going to reach the people who need it the most? When you donate to a charity, you are placing your money in the hands of experts who will assess need and put all donations received (and if you donate to a specific appeal, your money will go to that appeal) to the best use. Some charities are fraudulent, and none are perfect in their understanding of what will always be a very complex situation, some people who desperately need help may be missed, but these are excuses, not reasons. Charities that are household names in disaster relief got that way by reliably helping people in desperate need over many years. Their work is closely scrutinised and criticised by journalists, goverments, and official bodies like the Charity Commission.

5. I'll give, but I want to give food/blankets/toys/scarves/teddies/books. This is a natural urge. You want to comfort distressed people, so you think about what gives you comfort and want to share it. However, these people you're helping, they're not like you. They have different needs, food, sleeping habits and toys. Even if they speak the same language as you, the books you like may not be to their taste. What you need to give is something that can be easily converted into what will most relieve and comfort them. Money is instantly transferable, and has no associated transport costs. Give money.

6. What's this minimum donation thing? Surely any money is better than none? Not always, no. There are costs associated with processing donations, and these vary according to where in the world they are. In the UK the government works hard to ensure these costs are kept as low as possible, but it's still possible to make donations that cost more than they are worth, by tying up a phone operator for a long time with lots of questions, and then making a very small donation, for example. But people have different capacities for giving, and there are a variety of ways to give; collecting boxes for small change, shops for stuff, direct donations for larger amounts. If you're not finding a price point you're comfortable with, shop around.

7. I can't cope with thinking about something on this scale. And it's not just this disaster, it's the next one, and the next one, and every day people are dying in war and children are starving and people are being oppressed and I just can't stand thinking about all the pain in the world. Everyone needs to find their own balance with what they do for other people and what they do for themselves. Letting the pain of the world eat you up will do you no good and won't help the suffering multitudes, either. Take a step back, leave the good work to other people for a while. But, especially if the guilt bothers you, think about a standing order or payroll giving, at whatever level you can afford. Two pints, say. For just £5 a month you could have a little prayer-wheel churning out a monthly message: I'm doing good, I'm doing good.

Apologies for the UK/Oxfam bias of this. We write about what we know.

This is a backdated entry. It was written on the evening of December 30th.