Joint Myanmar appeal

With tens of thousands dead (possibly a hundred thousand) and hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, the disaster in Myanmar is approaching the scale of the December 2004 tsunami. The difference is that it’s confined to one extremely poor country with particularly poor infrastructure. [Update: Ken Parish would rather call the country Burma, and recommends this discussion of the name issue.]

Aid agencies are working frantically to supply food, water, medication, tarpaulins and so on, to a million or so survivors of Cyclone Nargis who remain in desperate straits. Their initial efforts have been hampered by the paranoid Myanmar government and bureaucracy (see Ken’s post below) as much as by the blocked roads and unusable airports, but it seems progress is being made.

Some blogosphere veterans might remember that John Quiggin raised nearly $5000 in donations for aid organisations involved in the tsunami relief effort three years ago. John undertook to match every dollar pledged by a reader, with a dollar of his own.

He is doing the same thing again, this time in collaboration with Club Troppo. We are hoping to persuade readers to give generously in the knowledge that every dollar of disposable income sacrificed translates to nearly four dollars of aid. John will donate fifty cents for every dollar pledged in the comments threads for this post, the comments thread for the twin post at his own site, or by email to John or me. Club Troppo contributors will put in another fifty cents.

The deadline for pledges is midnight Thursday 15 May, and we’ll announce the total collected this time next week. If you donate electronically, forward John or me the acknowledgment in due course, although it doesn’t have to be by the deadline. (The acknowledgments don’t usually specify the amount, but we’ll take your word on that.) Unless you ask to remain anonymous, we’ll list the contributors.

Donate to which ever reputable aid organisation you prefer. Some obvious candidates, who are operating in Myanmar now and also accept on-line donations, are Red Cross, CARE, World Vision, and Medecins Sans Frontieres. Oxfam is collecting funds, though they do not appear to be conducting their own operations in Myanmar. Readers are encouraged to add to this list of suggestions.

My email address is j DOT farrell AT uws DOT edu DOT au.

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34 Responses to Joint Myanmar appeal

  1. Bishop Joseph Akindemowo says:

    Dear Mr Farrell,

    Greetings and humblest salutations from Lagos. Your most generous charity brings tears to the eyes of philanthropic Nigerians such as myself. However, I regret that I am a little confused. I am not quite clear about what you are asking. Should I donate to Red Cross or Oxfam or send the money to your esteemed self or Professor Quicken?

    In Nigeria we do not trust these imperialist running dog charities, and so I would humbly pray to be permitted to send my donation direct to you. Provide me with your bank account details by urgent confidential email, and I will instantly forward to you a very large proportion of 2 billion Naira (US$20 million) recently deposited into my own account by an oversight of my beloved employer. I am sure this will in turn bring tears to the eyes of the little MyanmarBurmese refugees.

    Yours in charity

    Bishop Joseph Akindemowo
    Church of Unitarian National Trust

  2. patrickg says:

    Ha ha ha, and the spammening has begun. Come on James, it’s 20 mill!

    FYI email with donation proof has been sent, but you guys should be calling it a Burma appeal, not Myanmar – that name is nothing but a regime concept.

  3. Good show. Donation made and receipt sent.

  4. Geoff Honnor says:

    And from me.

  5. Laura says:

    I’m almost as confused as the bishop there but when I can find a bank branch that will take the money on Monday I’ll give $50 to the Red Cross. I tried the local CBA this afternoon but they couldn’t take a donation without a slip or something (I don’t have a credit card.)

  6. Simon Rumble says:

    What a fantastic thing to do. $100 on its way to Oxfam.

    While they don’t have people in-country, I’ve always been impressed by Oxfam’s approach and attitude. What’s more, they don’t mug me on the street looking for donations where half the donation goes to a private company employed to solicit donations — all the others you suggested do.

    On the naming issue, Aung San Suu Kyi, the only living democratically-elected leader of the country, does not recognise the name Myanmar. It’s acceptable for aid agencies to use the military dictatorship’s preferred name in the circumstances: anything that will smooth the flow and get help to those in need.

  7. NPOV says:

    I’ve donated $100 through CARE, who will presumably find good use for the money even if it doesn’t get through to the cyclone victims.
    Oddly Simon I take the opposite approach – I prefer to donate money to those that make an effort to convince me that their cause is worthwhile!

  8. Niall says:

    NPOV makes an interesting point when he writes “…CARE, who will presumably find good use for the money even if it doesnt get through to the cyclone victims” As much as I feel for those who are suffering in Burma, I’m not one to blithely commit my hard earned to seemingly bureaucratic organisations which use more than half of all donations to keep themselves fluid. I gave blood to the Red Cross in aid of the Tsunami Appeal, and felt my efforts would have been more useful than the few bucks I could spare at the time.

    With the current state of play between Burma’s regime and the rest of the global community, I personally feel that the United Nations has a duty of care to the citizens of Burma through the auspices of the UN Security Council under Chapters 2 and 9 of the charter. It’s patently clear that xenophobia among the Burmese regime will severely restrict any external aid efforts, and while I praise the ethos behind this appeal and JQ’s thoughts, I’m not in favour of throwing money at an effort which may never. Power to those of you who do, and I’m not criticising your efforts. I simply feel there are other avenues.

  9. patrickg says:

    Im not one to blithely commit my hard earned to seemingly bureaucratic organisations which use more than half of all donations to keep themselves fluid.

    You got some references there Niall, cause it sounds to me you like don’t know shit about charities and international aid organisations to be honest.

    To be classified as a charity in Australia there are some very strict reporting requirements.

    Furthermore, the organisations recommended are very up front about where the money goes, e.g:

    Care: What are CARE Australia’s administration overheads?
    Over the last eight years around 90 per cent of our total income from the Australian public and all other sources has been spent on work in the field, rather than on administration overheads.

    MSF: 5% admin, 13% fundraising, 82% programme activities.

    Oxfam: Where does the money go?

    Oxfam Australia’s management standards stipulate that a minimum of 85% of funds raised froe programs. The remaining 15% covers costs associated with advertising and promoting our appeals, operating our toll free phone room, processing and receipting donations and audit and financial accountability costs associated with verifying expenditure of these funds in our annual accounts.

    For all other appeals, 81 cents in every dollar donated goes directly to our program work overseas and in Australia. 5 cents is spent on administration and reserves, while 14 cents is used to increase donated income through marketing and fundraising. m all our emergency appeals must be used directly for our emergency response.

    And that’s just for starters. If you don’t want to donate, that’s cool, but don’t dress it up in some kind of ethical concern about where the money goes, that’s total bullshit, and ignorant in the extreme.

    As someone who has worked, and had a long term interest in the aid sector, this is a commonly held preconception often used as a convenient foil to avoid feeling guilty, and it really irritates me. People in aid agencies work incredibly hard, for far less than they should be getting paid (a ‘donation’ most of us would shudder to comprehend; when I moved out of the NGO sector, my salary went up 40%) – sometimes for nothing at all.

    It’s very easy to ascertain whether a charity is good or not. I suggest you educate yourself about it before making anymore sweeping assumptions.

  10. Ken Parish says:

    This story is a bit of a worry, however:

    Burma today said it was not ready to let in foreign aid workers, rejecting international pressure to allow experts into the isolated nation where disease and starvation are stalking cyclone survivors.

    One week after the devastating storm killed tens of thousands, Burma’s ruling generals – deeply suspicious of the outside world – said the country needed outside aid for those still alive but would deliver it themselves.

    Charities which succumb to this pressure and simply give aid to the Burma junta for distribution would simply be putting it into the pockets of the generals and their supporters, which is certainly something I’m not prepared to do. The CARE Australia website, however, states that it has 500 aid workers in Burma in any event, so presumably it will be distributing aid through them direct to the people who need it, rather than simply giving it to the regime. Nevertheless I’ve emailed CARE and I’ll convey any response I receive. I’m not myself going to hand over my pledged donation until I’m reasonably sure that it will reach people in need and not be stolen by their oppressors.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Great idea. I’ve made a donation – MSF, thanks for the recommendation, and I’ll send you an email.

  12. Niall says:

    Patrick, my opinion stands. You make some high falutin link to two out of how many charity organisations, which clearly define that not every dollar goes where it needs to. Who’s the dill here, hmmm? I’m glad your salary has risen 40%, Bully for you, old cock. Mine hasn’t risen for 12 years. You want a pissing contest over money to spare? You’ve already won. I don’t have the cash to spare, and even if I did, I don’t believe throwing money at issues like Burma is the solution to a much broader problem. Don’t go criticising me because I don’t meet your ideological expectations. You’ll note I stated I’m not criticising yours.

  13. NPOV says:

    Niall, that’s a bit silly – do you really think you can run a charity where every single penny donated goes directly to those who need it? 10% overhead for admin/fund-raising etc. seems pretty reasonable to me.

    As far as the “throwing money” argument goes – you’re right that it won’t fix Burma’s long standing issues with poverty and a lack of democracy, but when it’s a case of lives being saved and infrastructure being rebuilt after a natural disaster, then money is pretty obviously going to be needed. If you don’t have the cash to spare, then just leave it at that. No-one’s going to criticise you for not giving what you don’t have.

  14. daiskmeliadorn says:

    can i suggest TEAR australia. they also have people already working with partner agencies in burma so that should help the money actually get through.

    like world vision, TEAR is a christian organisation; if you don’t mind that, i think their approach and practice is quite good. they are known for the ‘worlds most useful gifts’ catalogue.

  15. Niall says:

    No, NPOV, I don’t believe the guff that Patrick clearly does. End of story.

  16. James Farrell says:

    The issue of whether aid organizations use money efficiently is an important one, but I’d like to reserve this thread for pledges, please. Thanks to everyone who contributed so far, including those who did so by email.

  17. Joe D says:

    Thanks to all for doing this. $50 from me to World Vision.

  18. jbq says:

    Avaaz at is bypassing the SLORC (or whatever they call themselves these days) by going through the monks. From my experience in Burma (spelt BURMA) it would seem this has a fair chance of going where it should.

    Donated $100 through avaaz.

    Thanks for what you’re doing.

  19. jbq says:

    Avaaz is bypassing the SLORC (or whatever they call themselves these days) by going through the monks. From my experience in Burma (spelt BURMA) it would seem this has a fair chance of going where it should.

    Donated $100 through avaaz.

    Thanks for what you’re doing.

  20. Simon Rumble says:

    NPOV wrote:

    I prefer to donate money to those that make an effort to convince me that their cause is worthwhile!

    The issue for me is that many of these charity mugging companies take as much as the first year of direct debit donations as their fee for signing up the donator! If you’re worried about money actually getting to those in need, this should make you very suspicious.

  21. ambigulous says:

    I’m making a small donation to this worthy cause. Will send details privately.

    Simon Rumble, there’s a way around those “muggers” who approach people on city streets to join up: find a local group (in the case of Amnesty) or try the website of the charity. I agree: cut out the middle man [or the middle backpacker ;-) ]


  22. Simon Rumble says:

    Ambiguous: or another method of avoiding them, don’t give to organisations that are willing to throw away vast amounts of donations on overhead.

  23. M. Farrell says:

    Hi James

    $i00.00 to CARE Australia.


  24. David Hooke says:


    $200 to MSF.


  25. Abby Imhoff says:

    Hi James,

    My friends and I have donated $1750 to a small group in Yangon that is working to get food, water and assistance to victims of Nargis. I will email you the details.



  26. Abby Imhoff says:

    Hi James,

    My friends and I have donated $1750 to a small group in Yangon that is assisting victims of Nargis. I will email you the details.


  27. CFQ says:

    Excellent initiative, Troppo. $100 to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

  28. Nicole says:

    $90 to World Vision – I’ve emailed you the confirmation.

  29. Patrick says:

    I was going to donate via my work, who will match dollar-for-dollar and deduct it from my pay, but frankly I got cold feet because I started to have serious doubts that the money would be permitted to do any good. The longer I wait the stronger the doubt.

    I think I will give the money to a foundation for the homeless that my work also supports.

  30. Helen says:

    $100 to MSF, but I can’t send you proof because I am a luddite and have sent off a cheque. No, really, I don’t own a credit card!

    (Bpay rocks, but MSF doesn’t have it.)

  31. Amanda says:

    The aid orgs had a press conference today to outline their programmes on the ground (“in country” seems to be the lingo) and stress that donations would make a difference, save lives, get to the right people etc etc so I guess many must be expressing the same reservations as Patrick, and ultimately making the same decision.

    They did say the amount raised so far was about $3.5m, which was only the six agencies there — which didn’t include World Vision — or govt contributions.

  32. James Farrell says:

    Thanks, Amanda. I’ll look into it, and also see what I can find out via email. Ken reports that he hasn’t had a response yet from CARE.

    In the meantime, the deadline for the Troppo-Quiggin dollar-for-dollar offer has passed. But of course anyone who wishes to announce further contributions of their own is encouraged to do so. Philanthropic competition is healthy.

  33. Amanda says:

    Sorry, forgot about the “pledges only” thing for this thread but anyway it was ACFID who held the press conference.

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