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Aid Organizations Say Private Tsunami Donations Unprecedented in Scale and Speed

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Governments around the world have pledged a total of more than two billion dollars in relief aid for the Asia earthquake and tsunami disasters. At the same time, aid organizations report that private donations from concerned individuals are pouring in at what they describe as an "overwhelming" rate.

From the White House Monday, President Bush pointed out that in the first days after the 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the following tsunami, the American people, on their own initiative, responded generously.

"In the week since the tsunami struck, private citizens have contributed millions of dollars for disaster relief and reconstruction," he said.

George Bush with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton
In an indication of just how much importance the administration places on individual contributions, President Bush announced that two former presidents, his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton, are spearheading an effort to encourage more individual contributions for relief aid.

"To draw even greater amounts of private donations, I have asked two of America's most distinguished private citizens to head a nationwide charitable fundraising effort," the president said.

Since the disasters struck December 26, aid organizations have received tens of millions of dollars from individual donors.

Caroline Green, from Oxfam International, says the development and relief organization has already raised $40 million around the world. Twelve million dollars of that, she adds, came from the United States.

"We have raised huge amounts of money for previous disasters, such as in East Timor, or the Papua New Guinea tsunami, or several crises in Africa," she said. "But this really has been the biggest in the last, at least decade, in terms of money pledged and how quickly it has come in."

Ms. Green says she is concerned about long-term fundraising prospects for this disaster, but says she is not worried about the rate of donations for the time being.

"Obviously, as the long-term effort starts kicking up, it's going to be a lot slower," she said. "But at the moment, we're still getting donations pouring in, both online and through the mail. So, it's slowing down a little bit, but still, the scale is quite enormous for us, and we're still working around the clock to process all the donations and get the aid to people in need."

Another relief agency, CARE, has raised $30 million around the world, with more than one-third of that amount coming from the United States. CARE executive director Theresa Rhodes says she thinks the fact that the disasters happened right after the Christmas holiday may have made Americans even more willing to donate.

"And I think it was just something so horrific, that you imagine being somewhere and just having a tidal wave come," she said. "It's just an awful situation. And the fact that it affected so many people. And maybe it was because it was the holiday, and people are with their families and they're thinking about, 'dear god, what if it was us? And here I am sitting with the people that I love. And what if I lost half my family?"

Ms. Rhodes adds that CARE has seen what she describes as an "overwhelming" display of generosity from ordinary people.

"What we have seen is an unbelievable amount of outpouring of people wanting to do something," she said. "Our headquarters is in Atlanta, and people are literally walking off the street, into the CARE headquarters, handing checks and cash, and saying here's something for the emergency. So, it's just been phenomenal that people have been - whether it's five dollars or a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, people are responding to this."

Relief organizations are not the only ones getting involved in raising aid money for the Asia disaster. The online bookseller, Amazon.com, has already collected more than $14 million in the first week of its campaign to raise money for the American Red Cross.

Amazon.com's Craig Berman says many of the company's 44 million active customers who come to the website to shop see the window with a Red Cross logo and make their own decision to give.

"It's one click on the Red Cross page, that takes you to a second page," he says. "And you put in the dollar amount you'd like to donate, and two clicks later, you're done. It's incredibly fast. It's incredibly easy. And it's really a nice way for the customers to be able to participate in this."

Mr. Berman says Amazon has placed the donation feature on all of its international websites as well, including in Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. The money raised from those campaigns will go toward Asia disaster relief efforts by the local Red Cross organizations.

 

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