How to ensure that your contributions to Pakistani flood relief go to the right place.

Advice on how to make the world better.
Sept. 15 2010 10:27 AM

No Flood of Relief

How to help the Pakistani flooding victims.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com.

Slide Show: After the Pakistani Floods. Click image to launch.

Dear My Goodness,
I feel very sorry for the people in Pakistan who've lost their homes in the flood, but I'm worried about sending money. Could my donation end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials there? Could my money even somehow benefit terrorists?

—Jan in Schenectady, N.Y.

Dear Jan,
Giving from individual Americans is lagging way behind the need, and it may be because others, like you, are understandably hesitant to give to a place that is far away and seems in many ways alien. Most of us know Pakistan through our news sources as a place that spins off misery—suicide bombings, political assassinations, the 2005 earthquake, and now the Indus River flooding.But it is also simply a place where millions of our fellow human beings have lost their homes and need clean water, food, and shelter.

There are two ways to give that will make sure that your money goes to help some of the nearly 20 million people affected by the flood. No part of your donation will go to the government of Pakistan, the Taliban, or al-Qaida.The first option is to let our State Department send the money on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

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The second is to look for a group with a high rating for efficiency and integrity from one of the charity watchdogs.My own response was to give to Doctors Without Borders, to help prevent epidemics, and to the International Rescue Committee, which was fast off the mark to distribute clean water, hygiene kits, food, and shelter. Mike Young, the International Rescue Committee's regional director for Asia and the Caucasus, said that the IRC has worked in Pakistan for about 30 years and knows and trusts its largely Pakistani staff. As a further safeguard, every individual the IRC hires and every vendor from whom the relief group buys supplies or services is checked through an anti-terrorism compliance database.

I looked at Islamic Relief USA, which has received the most money for Pakistan aid of any U.S.-based humanitarian group (close to $5 million), much of it from some of the 2 million-plus American Muslims.But I was sorry to learn that though they get a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a similar rating group, CharityWatch.org, has yet to rate the charity. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, which runs CharityWatch.org, says the group rates a question mark so far. "I would love to have a rating for them," Borochoff told me, "But they haven't responded to our requests for information." Hopefully that'll be cleared up soon: After I sent an e-mail query Monday to Islamic Relief USA about its status, someone from the group contacted CharityWatch.

Within weeks of this year's other great natural disaster, the earthquake in Haiti, Americans gave generouslymore than 30 times as much as they've given to Pakistan, according to this account. The January quake was sudden and shocking, and killed an astounding number of people. Estimates differ, but it may have been as many as 90,000.

Unlike an earthquake, one drastic day followed by aftershocks, a flood is quite literally a rolling disaster, spreading over weeks.It has taken a while for the world to absorb the scale of the damage in Pakistan. The flood has, so far, a low death rate by comparison with Haiti's—fewer than 2,000 fatalities.But about one-tenth of the country's total population of 173 million has been displaced and is now facing disease, famine, and the harshness of winter.One-fifth of the country is underwater; 1.4 million acres of cropland is ruined.Mud homes dissolved, schools were washed away, and at least 200 hospitals and clinics are buried in mud.

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