Experts also say donating to these organizations makes sense because they know the terrain having worked on previous disasters in the countries, often have local partners and are going to be around over the long haul. In large-scale disasters, Tierney says, "it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense for people to be parachuting in for a couple of months."
She says that's what happened after the 2010 Haiti earthquake when small groups traveled to the impoverished nation to construct new housing and sometimes made things worse by building in areas at high risk for future flooding or other weather calamities. "When people aren't aware of the local customs and local risks they can make tremendous mistakes," she says.
Rebuilding, she says, is far more complicated than just collecting money to pour into a disaster zone. Numerous questions have to be considered: Will the aid contribute to the rehabilitation? Will it be used in a culturally sensitive way? Will it intensify social inequality?
Some of those very problems cropped up when smaller charities decided to build homes in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, says Chris Palusky, of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization.
One group put up tin shacks, while another constructed nice homes, creating a deep sense of inequality, says Palusky, director of the group's humanitarian and emergency affairs. In another instance, homes were built that were not up to code and were on a property line, creating disputes among families. They eventually were torn down — illustrating the need, Palusky says, for strict standards and the importance of coordinating with local governments.
These "mom and pop" charities, he says, "go into the field with the best intentions, but sometimes the best intentions are the road to hell."
Though the typhoon is dominating news coverage now, some charities emphasize that the need for donations will remain great even when the world's attention moves on to another catastrophe. People made homeless by the Haiti earthquake and the Asian tsunami zone still are struggling years later, says Holly Solberg, director of emergency and humanitarian assistance at CARE USA.
In the Philippines, she says, "we're not just talking about rebuilding a home. We're talking about rebuilding livelihoods. People have lost members of their families. Schools have been destroyed. Hospitals have been decimated."
"I think one of the lessons from previous large-scale disasters," she adds, "is people are going to be feeling this and recovering for a long time. They're not going to be back on their feet in months. This is going to take years."
Red Cross: www.redcross.org
World Vision: www.worldvision.org
Natural Hazards Center: www.colorado.edu/hazards