The tragic loss of life and property in southeast Asia from the earthquake and tsunami led to an outpouring of sympathy and charitable donations from around the world. Here in the United States the amount donated to private charities for tsunami relief has gone well above $1 billion.
Private charities and non-profit organizations in the United States have collected more than $1.109 billion for tsunami relief, according to figures compiled by Indiana University's Center for Philanthropy.
In a VOA telephone interview, Center Research Director Patrick Rooney compares the tsunami relief response to the charitable giving that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But, he notes, that was an event at home involving feelings of anger and patriotism, as well as sympathy, whereas most Americans had little or no connection to the area affected by the tidal wave.
"The tsunami relief is clearly a purely philanthropic response," he said. "It is a case of true altruism. Most people here did not know someone there. They were moved by the size and level of catastrophe. They were moved by the number of widows and orphans and the number of people who have lost their children."
Carrie Martin, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, says her organization received a flood of donations in response to the Asian disaster.
"This is one of the largest international disasters the American Red Cross has helped respond to and this in coordination with our international partners, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies," she said.
She says news media coverage of the tsunami disaster made the death, destruction, and suffering seem closer to home.
"One thing the American Red Cross has seen in regard to any disaster is that the more the media [mass news media] covers each disaster, the more that people open up their wallets," she said. "That is due to the fact that many people consistently see the images on television, see the suffering, and respond with incredible generosity."
The Center for Philanthropy's Patrick Rooney notes that donors gave money to the Red Cross and other organizations for tsunami relief on top of their normal donations.
"They give some gift that is, in some ways, not necessarily a reallocation of their giving," he said. "This is probably additional giving, over and above what they have traditionally given to other non-profits.
In the immediate days following the first news reports of the tsunami disaster, a U.N. official criticized the United States for not providing more direct government assistance to the relief effort. That sort of criticism subsided after the U.S. military and civilian aid agencies arrived in the disaster area and the full scope of charitable donations from the United States became known.
But, Patrick Rooney says people in many other countries probably do not understand how private charity in the United States plays the role governments might play elsewhere.
"Most other countries pay substantially higher tax rates than we do, but the government then provides a higher safety net, with fewer holes," he said. "So something like this would be more heavily funded out of government expenditures rather than philanthropy. In the United States, we have taken a different course and we have relied on the non-profit sector and private philanthropy much more heavily than most other countries."
Mr. Rooney says many non-profit organizations and charities have completed relief operations in stricken zones and are now concentrating on longer-term reconstruction and recovery projects. He says money that continues to flow in from private donors will be much needed in the coming months and years as people in the stricken areas try to recover and carry on with their lives.