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'Disaster fatigue' cuts into relief donations

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Maybe it's the pinch of $4-a-gallon gas and the economic downturn. Maybe it's distrust of Myanmar's ruling junta or concern over human rights violations in China. Or maybe the American people are going through "disaster fatigue," the feeling that we've seen it all before.

In the weeks since a cyclone laid waste to Myanmar's delta region and an earthquake devastated a Chinese province — catastrophes that collectively left 184,000 people dead or missing and displaced millions — Americans have donated about $57-million to disaster relief charities as of late this week.

Compare that with the $207-million Americans donated in the first five days after an Indian Ocean tsunami struck southern Asia in 2004. Or the $226-million raised in five days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast.

"It's very clear that the breadth and depth of the people who have been touched emotionally doesn't compare to the tsunami," said Curtis R. Welling, chief executive of the relief group AmeriCares.

The $57-million estimate was provided by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Experts attributed the downturn in giving to a medley of forces, including a domestic economy that has left many Americans with little disposable income, a distrust in disaster relief charities and geopolitical tensions.

Some donors have lost confidence in disaster relief charities after some agencies' fumbled responses to Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks, said Eric Kessler, managing director of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors of Washington, D.C.

The overriding factor hampering donations, experts said, is geopolitics.

Myanmar's military regime has blocked many foreign reporters and aid workers from entering the country. This has resulted in little media coverage, particularly by television networks.

Also, Americans might be wary of donating to charities helping cyclone refugees considering the limits imposed by the Myanmar government.

Direct Relief International sent about $200,000 worth of antibiotics, surgical kits and other medical supplies to Myanmar. But the government confiscated the supplies and has withheld them from aid workers, spokesman Jim Prosser said.

>>Fast facts


Myanmar: Myanmar's ruling junta said Friday that it will let foreign aid workers and commercial ships help survivors in the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta, but it refused to relent on accepting aid from U.S., French and British military ships. A half-dozen military ships laden with aid and helicopters capable of reaching hard-hit areas have been waiting offshore, almost within sight of the coast, for more than a week.

China: Emergency crews worked Friday to secure 15 sources of radiation buried in the rubble of China's earthquake, the government said as it evacuated thousands of survivors downstream from rivers dammed by landslides. One senior official said China faces "a daunting challenge" to prevent environmental contamination from other sources.

Associated Press

'Disaster fatigue' cuts into relief donations 05/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 12:28pm]
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