Smart aid to Myanmar

One hundred million people will go to bed hungry tonight, and some will not wake up tomorrow morning. The U.N. World Food Program has called the sudden run-up in global food prices a "silent tsunami" that threatens the poorest of the poor. Add to food price hikes the devastating cyclone in Myanmar's rice-growing region, which has left perhaps a million survivors homeless, and the result is a global humanitarian crisis that will strain the resources of even well-funded relief groups.

Hunger: A May 9 editorial on donating to relief groups referred to Mercy Corps as a religious charity. It is a secular organization. —

We urge all Americans to give now. And we offer this advice on how to give wisely:

First, support what our government will not. In the case of hunger, that means directing a portion of your donations to Third World agricultural and sustainable development projects. It's easy to get Washington to pay for famine relief, and President Bush has already pledged generously. But it's almost impossible to persuade lawmakers to fund long-term, environmentally sensible agricultural programs, even though this is the only way to forestall future famines. Second, give online, so your money goes to work immediately. Third, designate your donation for the programs you support.

To help cyclone victims, the best aid organization is arguably UNICEF (www.unicef.org). It has experience operating in Myanmar (it already has an office in Yangon) and has stockpiled emergency supplies in the region. And it's big and independent enough not to be pushed around by the military government. The other groups we recommend are all private. International Medical Corps (www.imcworldwide.org) runs highly efficient food and medical programs around the world and has a longtime operation in Indonesia, whose relief workers are more likely to be admitted to Myanmar than are Americans. Among the religious charities, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision all have extensive operations in Southeast Asia and are highly rated for cost-efficiency (see www.charitynavigator.org).

To alleviate global hunger, all of those groups are deserving. In addition, Action Against Hunger (www.actionagainsthunger.org) offers both immediate nutrition and programs to boost food security, and it spends almost nothing on fundraising. Other worthy groups supporting agricultural development are TechnoServe (www.technoserve.org), which funds entrepreneurial solutions to poverty, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (www.aatf-africa.org), which gives technical help to small farmers in Africa.

And finally, remember your local food bank.

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