The horrific tsunami that hit the coasts along the Indian Ocean this winter was devastating, but perhaps also eye opening for all of us here who rarely think about the hardships that take place across the oceans. The tsunami has certainly brought it to our attention, and people have responded. While our government was initially reluctant to pledge a decent amount of money, the American people, in this particular instance, have donated personally, with the Red Cross reporting (as of Tuesday) that $191.4 million in relief funds have been raised. Other organizations, such as Oxfam and UNICEF, similarly have seen incoming donations for tsunami relief.
While not to diminish the generosity of individuals who donate during this time of crisis, it should be noted that this outpouring of financial support to assist foreign countries in crisis is relatively rare, with such large support being offered only in cases of sudden, huge disasters. Indeed, according to columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, on a regular basis, America gives only 15 cents for every $100 of national income to aid struggling countries. Compare this to Denmark or the Netherlands, who give 84 cents and 80 cents per $100, respectively. Although the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, as a nation we tragically rank at the very bottom of 22 top donor countries, according to Kristof.
As we sadly watch the humanitarian crisis in Asia unfold in the wake of the tsunami, perhaps it is a good time to evaluate our need to be generous. We must also realize how much our generosity is needed in other devastating humanitarian crises all over the globe. "It would be the ultimate irony if the year 2005 started with unprecedented global generosity and ended with no money for those most in need in the 'forgotten and neglected emergencies' in Africa and elsewhere," noted U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland in an article by Thalif Deen.
Indeed, many of the most dire situations around the world continue to go unnoticed by donors. For instance, humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur, Sudan, where thousands are dying and refugee camps are suffering from lack of water and food, have seen very little in the way of aid. As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, the U.N. has received "as little as 14 percent of the amount we need to respond." Funding for other places with crises has also lagged, with Thalif Deen of the Inter Press Service noting that Cote d'Ivorie has received only 54 percent of the funding requested to deal with the situation, while Liberia received 45 percent and Mozambique a mere 15 percent.
Besides these overlooked humanitarian crises, ongoing problems such as preventable diseases continue to be ignored by donors. Malaria in particular is one disease that continues to ravish countries and take countless lives, yet very little in the way of donations comes to malaria-prevention programs. A parasitic disease carried by mosquitoes, the BBC reports that malaria is present in 90 countries and infects one out of 10 people in the world. As Kristof points out, "Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the tsunami did … with malaria probably killing 2 million to 3 million people each year." Besides the deaths, it also ravages the economies of the affected places, costing an estimated $12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product in Africa, according to Itai Madamombe of Africa Renewal.
Malaria, as Kristof and others point out, is very preventable, as we have seen throughout history. Here, DDT was successfully used to prevent mosquito breeding after World War II and even wiped out the disease in places such as Taiwan. Kristof, Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and a variety of others strongly recommend reinvesting in pesticide programs that have long laid dormant thanks to concerns over the use of DDT. While certainly not the ideal situation (indeed, concern should be shown to the use of DDT and more studies must be conducted) Kristof quotes even Rick Hind of Greenpeace as saying, "If there's nothing else and it's going to save lives, we're all for it."
Besides pesticides, investing in things as simple as mosquito nets for as little as $5 or malaria medication for only $1 a dose could save countless lives.
While lauding the generosity of everyone who has donated to the tsunami relief efforts, it is still important to stress the importance of generosity for humanitarian crises that perhaps do not make the news. With millions suffering in war zones or dying of preventable diseases, it is essential that we as a country rise from being dead last in a list of donating countries to become an example of humanitarian effort.
Meg Burd is a graduate student studying anthropology. Her columns run on Fridays in the Collegian.