Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Disaster Relief and the Media

The Washington Post reports that donations for relief have come in slowly in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Pakistan. According to this article, the death toll in Pakistan is currently at 30,000; according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, millions are left homeless. Pakistan's government simply isn't equipped to handle this alone. According to the Washington Post, donations may be coming in so much slower simply because people are feeling overwhelmed by disasters:
After donating about $1.3 billion to help the victims of the devastating Southeast Asia tsunami and then contributing $1.7 billion to support relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, many donors appear to be running out of steam....

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.

Aid groups say they believe Americans have not lost empathy for the victims of new natural misfortunes.
I'd like to propose another theory: a drop in disaster coverage and attention.

The story of the tsunami was in the news for days, a virtually unprecedented disaster that demanded attention. Katrina is still in the news, as people try to figure out just what went wrong and what needs to change. The earthquake made it to the front page of Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer; today, I had to hunt around on their site to find an update. Are natural disasters now old news?

Moreover, attention to Katrina expanded well beyond the regular news media. I had planned to donate from the beginning, but I didn't actually do it until it was so easy that I couldn't help but notice—the front page of had replaced my normal recommendations and ads with a link to donate to the Red Cross online. I had just gone in to buy an electric shaver, and suddenly I was reminded to donate and help people. Not that Amazon doesn't have a right to protect its own business interests, but it kind of disappointed me when I logged in today and all I found was a recommendation to pick up replacement foils for the shaver.

I'm sure there must be a variety of reasons why aid is coming in more slowly now, but if a lack of public reminders is one of them, please let this count as a reminder for you.


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National TV crews went back to New Orleans after Rita hit. Consequently, local medai seem to be the only outlet for folks who need help.

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