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Archive for Thursday, October 13, 2005

Charities worry about ‘relief fatigue’

Response to S. Asia earthquake lagging

October 13, 2005

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— American donors, overwhelmingly generous following the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, are responding much more slowly to the devastating earthquake in Pakistan.

Though no overall figures have been compiled yet, aid agencies including the American Red Cross and the World Food Program say earthquake contributions have lagged well behind the pace of donations for the tsunami last December. Atlanta-based CARE said Wednesday its online quake donations so far have been roughly $200,000, compared to $1.5 million in online gifts at the same stage after the tsunami.

"The fact that the tsunami struck a tourist region, and happened right after Christmas, played a role in terms of the generosity," said the World Food Program's U.S.-based spokesman, Trevor Rowe. "We haven't witnessed that yet with the earthquake. Not at all. We need all the help we can get."

The earthquake struck Saturday as most U.S. relief organizations were - and are - still seeking donations to cope with the aftermath of Katrina, the most disruptive natural disaster in American history.

Already, Americans have donated more than $1.7 billion for hurricane relief, on the heels of $1.3 billion they donated in response to the tsunami - a record for an overseas disaster.

"The past 12 months have been shocking in terms of the number of tragic natural disasters, and the American public has been incredibly generous in responding," said Debra Neuman, a vice president of CARE.

"So far, we are not seeing as strong a response to the earthquake," she said. "We need to tell the story in the most compelling way possible, and urge people to reach down a little more deeply."

InterAction, a Washington-based alliance of more than 160 U.S. relief agencies, is hearing from its members that many donors feel they have little left to give.

"When the tsunami hit, it was the time of giving, the time of joy, and it moved people to be generous," InterAction president Mohammad Akhter said. "When Katrina hit, it was so close to home, people were generous again. Now people have contributed all their money, and with this third big event the response is very slow."

The American Red Cross was by far the leading of recipient of U.S. donations for the tsunami, and has collected $1.15 billion thus far in response to Hurricane Katrina - more than double all other relief agencies combined, though short of its $2 billion goal.

The Red Cross has now launched a special South Asia earthquake fund, but initial donations and pledges - $1.5 million as of Wednesday - lagged well behind the response to the tsunami, when Americans gave tens of millions of dollars to the organization within a week of the disaster.

A coalition of American Muslim groups, formed in response to Hurricane Katrina, is now switching its focus to the earthquake. The American Muslim Task Force for Disaster Relief, aligning more than a dozen relief and medical organizations, set a fundraising goal of $20 million to help quake survivors.

The recent cataclysms have overshadowed some other serious disasters, including the flooding and mudslides that have killed hundreds of Guatemalans as well as dozens of "silent crises." Relief experts use that term to describe famines, epidemics and wars that ravage civilians in places not in the international media spotlight.

"We're living in a world where natural disasters are increasing, and the silent crises are increasing," said Rowe, the World Food Program spokesman. "It is difficult to choose between all of them."

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