Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Earthquake relief: we're tired and scared

Earthquake survivor living in temporary housing.
Photo: CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan

This is sad, but perhaps just natural. Today the Washington Post tells us that "Charities Report Low Donations for Quake Victims."

Nonprofit relief organizations say donations are coming in much more slowly than after the tsunami or Katrina. For example, online donations to the international relief group CARE's South Asia earthquake fund are 10 percent of what they were at the same point after the tsunami, a spokesman said.

The American Red Cross also said the pace of giving for earthquake relief is far slower then it was after Katrina or the tsunami. Tens of millions of dollars poured in within a week of the earlier disasters, said spokeswoman Carrie Martin. But so far, the Red Cross has collected only $45,000 for South Asia quake victims.

Agencies and charity researchers say "donor fatigue" might be part of the problem. The third major disaster within a year simply is not registering with Americans as strongly as did the previous two.

Not surprisingly, the one community that has rushed to help has been US residents with South East Asian origins; Muslim Americans, currently obseving the holy month of Ramadan, have been especially generous, quickly pledging millions of dollars.

But a pall of unease accompanies the relief fundraising in that community. Just a couple of weeks ago Business Week reported that Islamic donors remain "spooked" by US government surveillance that conflates charitable international giving with aid to terrorism.

"Charities are in the position of being guilty until proven innocent," board chair Dr. Laila Al-Marayati of KinderUSA says. "Our donors are afraid…."

Since September 11 federal authorities have frozen the assets of five Islamic charities in the U.S., including three of the largest, for alleged links to terrorist groups -- in effect, shutting the groups down…. Nevertheless, as the U.S. marks the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, none of the investigations has been resolved. The charities' assets remain frozen.

This situation is sure to chill efforts by South East Asians in this county to help earthquake victims.

Fortunately, there are things we can do as US citizens to help. We can pressure our government to contribute on a massive scale to earthquake relief. Write your senators and the President by clicking here.

And we can also contribute to the various charities helping quake victims. I channeled my contribution through Church World Service, a non-denominational Christian relief agency with 50 years of experience working in Pakistan. Doctors Without Borders is a reliable secular group with strong ties to the area.

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