Relief agencies say donor fatigue is setting in as contributions for disasters in Asia and Latin America are coming in at rates much slower than relief efforts following last year’s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
After donating about $1.3 billion to help victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami and $1.7 billion for Katrina relief, donors appear to be running out of steam, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Donations to CARE’s South Asia earthquake fund are about 10 percent of the amount received at the same point after the tsunami, the Post reported.
The United Nations raised $50 million in the first week following a $272 million appeal, Reuters reported Monday.
Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid told EthicsDaily.com that the Baptist World Alliance’s relief-and-development arm was also seeing a drop-off in levels from the tsunami and Katrina, but it is too early to assess figures at this stage.
In addition to donor fatigue, Montacute said relief efforts are also suffering form “media fatigue,” with coverage of the earthquake has nearly disappeared just a week after it happened.
Stories and images from the tsunami and Katrina went on for weeks, while newspapers carried lists of agencies accepting funds. “That always makes our work more widely known,” Montacute said.
BWAid was included on official lists of charities accepting gifts for earthquake relief, Montacute said, but few major papers carried the information. And in papers where information was listed on where to donate, those lists disappeared after only a couple of days.
The fact that the tsunami struck in a tourist region and right after Christmas, when many people were already in a giving mood, likely helped the tsunami effort set a record for overseas relief.
And Americans felt connected to victims of Hurricane Katrina, the most disruptive natural disaster in U.S. history, prompting another generous response.
Now, agencies fear, people have already given their money. Worries about the cost of gasoline costs and predictions of high energy bills this winter might also make potential donors think twice about sacrificing.
“If the earthquake had happened before Katrina and the tsunami, that’s the largest natural disaster since Hurricane Mitch,” Mark Melia of Catholic Relief Services said in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “But it’s the third in a year, so it’s sort of like, ‘Here we go again.'”
Relief workers still, hope, however, that giving will increase as people learn more about the extent of devastation.
Laszlo Pavelcze, commander of BWAid Rescue24 and a veteran of 12 rescue operations after natural disasters, said he had “never seen anything like” the 7.6 Richter scale earthquake.
“The earthquake was so strong that it tore the mountain in two parts and dozens of houses fell into a cleft 50 to 100 meters deeps,” Pavelcze said in an early report.
But relief efforts for the earthquake are faring well when compared in Guatemala, where relief workers say they have seen little spike in giving since recent mudslides and floods killed an estimated 600 people.
While news media largely overlooked the disaster, CBS moved ahead with plans to air its fifth episode of “Survivor Guatemala,” despite the state of disaster where taping was wrapped up several months ago.
“There is always sensitivity to these things, publicist Colleen Sullivan told Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, but the network never considered that the program might not air. “We see the show as escapism.”
In addition to competing with each other, large-scale disasters also threaten to siphon funding from long-term problems like famine, epidemics and wars that occur outside the media spotlight. Relief agencies call them “silent crises.”
“HIV/AIDS is a slow-motion train wreck as opposed to a real-time train wreck of natural disasters,” Charles Lyons of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, told the Associated Press.
One bright spot in earthquake relief is an outpouring of help from Muslim and Pakistani communities, because so much of the affected area was in Pakistan.
According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia on Saturday pledged a $133.3 million grant for rebuilding infrastructure, schools and hospitals. Kuwait and United Arab Emirates pledged $100 million each.
President Bush offered helicopters and an initial $50 million.
Sri Lanka, a major victim of the Asian tsunami, pledged $100,000.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which collected more than $2.5 million for tsunami relief and long-term development and $696,000 for Katrina, is also raising funds for relief work in Pakistan and South Asia.
The Atlanta-based CBF is accepting donations by mail or on-line. Gifts are being distributed through Baptist World Aid.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.