So you want to help Japan? Questions linger

When an earthquake shook Haiti in 2010, charities, wealthy foundations and individuals rushed in with money and other aid to help with the relief efforts.

It hasn't been quite the same in Japan's disaster. Some nonprofits say they are taking a wait-and-see approach because Japanese officials are still assessing the needs. Others are raising money, but it's nowhere near the amount raised after the Haiti quake.

The contrasts are vast. Japan is one of the most developed nations in the world. Haiti, on the other hand, is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. After Haiti's 2010 earthquake, relief efforts were stymied by Haiti's already weakened infrastructure. Japan's preparedness for an earthquake and other disasters was excellent, and the country has a vast medical system.

At Atlanta-based CARE, "we’ve seen far less money come through for Japan versus Haiti," Robert Laprade, senior director of the CARE Emergency and Humanitarian Assistance Unit, said in a statement.

"For Haiti, within two days of tracking donations, we had $4.2 million in the pipeline," he said. "For Japan, within two days of tracking donations, we had $302,000 in the pipeline. ... One big variable is that we haven’t been aggressively fundraising for Japan, as we did in Haiti."

Typically, CARE responds to disasters in developing countries that often have limited infrastructure and capacity to help survivors.  In Japan, the organization is implementing a "modest" response to support ongoing emergency efforts. CARE has distributed relief items to a government collection center in Iwate prefecture in northern Japan, including biscuits, fruit, small portions of rice, toilet paper, water and face masks. CARE also will be coordinating with other organizations and local governments to assist people in need for the next 12 to 18 months.

"As of now, CARE USA is no longer seeking donations for the emergency in Japan," he said. Further assessments on the ground will determine how CARE can contribute.

"This is a totally different disaster scenario from Haiti," said Kimberly McCollum, a spokeswoman for MedShare. For one thing, with the severely damaged nuclear reactors, the situation is still escalating. "We're going to stand down. We still haven't decided whether we are going to send anything because we don't want to send anything unless it's requested or needed."

The first few weeks after a disaster is when people tend to give the most, said Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. When people see a disaster unfolding before their eyes on the Internet, television and in newspapers, they want to help.

Most of the volunteers with Habitat for Humanity Japan work at responding to housing needs in other Asian countries, since Japan has virtually no housing problem. Habitat is currently organizing those volunteers to put them in the service of the local governments to help with the cleanup effort.

Yoshi Domoto, executive director of the Japan-America Society of Georgia, said his group has done research to find organizations in Japan that they will help directly, including the Nippon Foundation, Japan Platform and the government of the Miyagi prefecture, the area that was hardest hit by the disaster.

There has been a continuous push from Atlantans and others around the world to offer help, he said, because of the many connections Japan has created in the world community.

“No matter where you are, there is a feeling of wanting to help, to support the relief effort,” he said.

But Japan has been slow to accept help. “The people in Japan historically have been resilient,” said Domoto. “They are proud; unless they need it, they hesitate to ask for help from the outside.”

Domoto said his organization, which has 750 members, including individuals and organizations, has raised $20,000 so far, and is continuing to sponsor fundraising events.