By the Acts 20:35 standard ("It is more blessed to give than to receive"), Americans over the past several months have been blessed.
After the South Asian tsunami in December, Americans reached into their pockets and gave $1.3 billion to relief efforts. They gave even more, $1.7 billion, after Hurricane Katrina's devastation. But as the disasters keep coming-deadly mudslides in Guatemala on Oct. 5; a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan on Oct. 8-donations to relief groups are drying up.
It's too early to know the final donation totals after the latest catastrophes, but a severe downward trend is apparent. In the first week after the October disasters, the American Red Cross reported that it was measuring overall donations in the thousands of dollars instead of in the millions.
World Emergency Relief, meanwhile, told WORLD that immediate donations after the disasters in Guatemala and Pakistan totaled less than 1 percent of the immediate donations after Hurricane Katrina, which totaled only 20 percent of the immediate donations after the tsunami.
Other groups had similar results. "There is a little bit of shell shock that's going on among donors," Janet Harris of the International Rescue Committee told The Washington Post. "The tsunami got a huge response. . . . Katrina got a huge response, and I think that people are a little caught off guard by this one."
Another theory: Americans just have other things on their minds right now. When the tsunami and Katrina hit, the U.S. economy was growing strongly, overall inflation was tame, and gasoline prices were not flirting with $3 per gallon. The October disasters came at a much worse time, on the heels of the biggest jump in U.S. inflation in 25 years. (The Labor Department reported that the consumer price index rose 1.2 percent in September.) "I wouldn't call it donor fatigue," said World Emergency Relief president Joel MacCollam. "I'd call it donor distraction."
The problems, however, are no less urgent than they were after the earlier disasters. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people died in the Guatemala mudslides, an estimated 2,500 children were orphaned, and thousands of people were left homeless. The Mayan village of Panabaj was all but destroyed, with survivors cramming into churches and other makeshift shelters in neighboring Santiago.
Doctors are beginning to worry about the spread of disease. "The worst problem now is the risk of epidemics," Alfonso Verdu of Doctors Without Borders told the Reuters news service. "I don't think the situation in Santiago is under control."
The crisis in Pakistan is even more alarming. UNICEF last week estimated that relief workers have yet to reach about 120,000 children in the mountains. "The relief effort is becoming more complex with each passing day," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. "There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with life-saving supplies that children urgently need. Where we do have supplies on the ground, we have too few humanitarian partners to deliver them to those most in need."
Relief groups are currently scrambling to raise money to help in these areas. The needs are great, as is the opportunity to be blessed.
Organizations raising money for disaster relief include:
1112 16th St. NW, Suite 540
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 835-1240, ext. 2
American Red Cross
2025 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Christian Aid Ministries
P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906
17011 W. Hickory, Spring Lake, MI 49456
Checks payable to InterServe
Attn: Finance Clerk
P.O. Box 418
Upper Darby, PA 19082-0418
Dept W, P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208
P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607
The Evangelical Alliance Mission
P.O. Box 969, Wheaton, IL 60189
World Emergency Relief
P.O. Box 131570, Carlsbad, CA 92013