Within six months of the Haiti earthquake, private donors gave more than US$1.3 billion. Appeals to give were seen in traditional and social media. Hollywood stars like Oprah and Lady Gaga personally gave and asked for public support. Philanthropy advisors and bloggers provided advice on how to give during a disaster and some even coordinated on the ground conference call updates. But the response to the recent Pakistan flooding situation is starkingly different. No appeals from Hollywood stars, no mass media coverage, very few bloggers are covering the event and so far, no sources have provided a tally of how much donors have given or how much organizations have received. Why? And, where is philanthropy’s response?
Immediate catastrophes and scale of impact
The Haiti earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people. The Kashmir earthquake killed over 80,000 people. As of today, officials are reporting a death toll of 1,500 and at least 14 million people have been made homeless. With such a small number of deaths, it is hard to grab the attention of the media and donors. Experts say that the impact of floods are perceived as less catastrophic when compared to earthquakes and tsunamis. Earthquakes and tsunamis have high numbers of immediate deaths while the impact of floods are more ongoing and long-term.
Floods require the movement of people away from the floods and onto higher ground. Farmland and crops are destroyed. Homes are inhabitable. Floods also create water-borne diseases that eventually cause medical issues. The impact of loss from floods are slowly uncovered as the water recedes and the damages continue to roll in. By then, the media has moved on to other news-worthy issues and the donor’s attention is distracted by another cause.
Donor fatigue and tough economic times
Reports have cited donor fatigue and tough economic times for the decrease in donations to Pakistan’s floods victims. While western countries are facing tough economic times now, they were also facing similar conditions in January during Haiti’s earthquake. Yet, US$1.3 billion was raised from private sources in the U.S.
It seems to me that timing may be one factor when it comes to how much and if individuals, corporations and foundations will respond to a disaster. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the early January earthquake occurred near the holidays and the new year, when people were in a more charitable mood. Further, the timing of charitable tax deductibility may also play a role. The U.S. government approved a new tax relief law allowing people who contributed in 2010 to charities providing earthquake relief in Haiti to take a tax deduction for the contribution on their 2009 tax return instead of their 2010 return. Donors received an immediate tax benefit rather than having to wait until next year.
Pakistan’s political and economic realities
Political instability, Islamist insurgency and corruption are also causing some prospective donors to be weary about the use of their charitable contributions. Pakistan was ranked number 42 in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index (it was number 47 the previous year). Donors are worried that their aid will be misdirected, i.e., used for terrorist activities or for personal gains.
The world watches how leaders of the government respond to the disaster. This is a key factor in building trust with individual donors and the philanthropic community. It provides reassurance to the public that the government is taking steps to be transparent and is willing to work with international relief organizations. In this case, President Zardari was in Europe and and traveling to his Normandy chateau instead of returning home to oversee disaster relief efforts. The head of the civilian government, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Giliani, confessed publicly that the government was overwhelmed by the disaster. It appears only then, that the military was responding adequately to relief efforts (and people remember these things when it comes to voting and choosing the government they want).
Organizations working in Pakistan
USA Today has posted a list of many, well-known international groups asking for donations. Donations have a tendency to flow to groups that are able to capture the public’s attention and/or have access to sophisticated media outreach mechanisms. Therefore, I thought I would point out other groups doing work in Pakistan that are also raising funds for disaster relief and recovery. Many of these groups are also working with local groups in providing aid to victims.
BRAC Pakistan has been operating in Pakistan since 2007 providing microfinance to 106,000 people. They have temporarily halted its micro-finance and health operations work in the area and is focusing on providing emergency relief. BRAC Pakistan is providing food packets and to combat the threat of diarrheal disease breaking out, they are distributing oral rehydration solution sachets.
The Citizens Foundation was set up in 1995 and is now one of Pakistan’s leading organizations in the field of formal education. It has 660 school units in hundreds of rural areas and urban slums located in 68 towns and cities. TCF is providing food packages to flood affected victims and have set a target to provide 20 million meals to people in 30 days. Each ration bag will feed a family for a month.
Kashf Foundation is one of the largest micro-finance organizations in Pakistan that is focused on women in low income communities. Kashf has started relief drive and plans to distribute to 10,000 households in the affected area. After relief efforts, Kashf will be involved with rebuilding efforts, especially as it relates to access to financial services.
Rural Support Programmes Network is the largest non-government network of rural development programs in Pakistan. RSP works in 105 districts of the country’s 138 districts and their partners have worked in disaster relief efforts in the past. RSPN is currently collecting cash and in-kind donations (sites are in Pakistan).
(UPDATE on Aug 19, 2010 – Give2Asia has also set up a Pakistan Relief Fund and has identified three, local organizations working inside Pakistan.)
Photo courtesy of Digital-Globe Imagery, Flickr, Creative Commons