The Paradox of Deaths and Drama Impacting Donors

Five weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 48 aid groups polled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy had collected three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Five weeks after the flooding in Pakistan, a similar poll found 32 aid groups had collected just $25 million.

“Pakistan was left rather alone in the most devastating flood in its history,” said Farooq Tariq, a human rights activist long accustomed to helping hapless civilians through Pakistani disasters.

It was hard for activists like Mr. Tariq not to look back at how the world had responded to the other major catastrophe in 2010 — the devastating earthquake that flattened much of Haiti and killed an estimated 250,000. The Pakistan floods affected 20 million, who now need food, shelter and clothing to face a harsh Pakistani winter. The entire population of Haiti, by contrast, is fewer than 10 million people.

Humanitarians have long struggled with this paradox. The number of dead, along with the swiftness and drama of their demise, trumps almost any amount of agony among those who survive a disaster, particularly a creeping one.

“Donors use the number of deaths as a barometer with disasters,” said Randy Strash, strategy director for disaster response at World Vision. “When you have a slow-onset disaster, like the flooding in Pakistan, which accumulated for three weeks and sustained for much longer, you don’t have that same shock value.”

The needs in Pakistan remain dire. Pledges of aid amount to just 40 percent of the total required, according to the United Nations.

[The New York Times]

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