Charities Report Low Donations for Quake Victims

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The massive earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people in South Asia has kindled an outpouring of cash from Muslim communities here and elsewhere but has elicited a far more feeble response from many other donors, aid groups say.

After donating about $1.3 billion to help the victims of the devastating Southeast Asia tsunami and then contributing $1.7 billion to support relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, many donors appear to be running out of steam.

"Each time, the response is not as brisk as it was the previous time around," said Akhter Mohammed, chief executive of Interaction, a Washington-based group that represents 165 international relief agencies, many of which are assisting in relief efforts for earthquake victims.

No one knows yet how much has been raised by U.S. charities since the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday. But nonprofit relief organizations say donations are coming in much more slowly than after the tsunami or Katrina.

For example, online donations to the international relief group CARE's South Asia earthquake fund are 10 percent of what they were at the same point after the tsunami, a spokesman said.

The American Red Cross also said the pace of giving for earthquake relief is far slower then it was after Katrina or the tsunami. Tens of millions of dollars poured in within a week of the earlier disasters, said spokeswoman Carrie Martin. But so far, the Red Cross has collected only $45,000 for South Asia quake victims.

Agencies and charity researchers say "donor fatigue" might be part of the problem. The third major disaster within a year simply is not registering with Americans as strongly as did the previous two.

Aid groups say they believe Americans have not lost empathy for the victims of new natural misfortunes.

"There is a little bit of shell shock that's going on among donors," said Janet Harris, vice president of development for the International Rescue Committee. "The tsunami got a huge response. . . . Katrina got a huge response, and I think that people are a little caught off guard by this one."

Mark Melia, director of annual giving for Catholic Charities, which has raised only $65,000 for earthquake relief, is hopeful that donors will come through.

"I think that people are feeling empathy," he said, "but it's just going to take a little more asking this time."

Virtually lost in the shuffle are the recent mudslides and floods in Guatemala, triggered by torrential rains, that have killed at least 600 people. Charities report that relatively few donations appear to have been triggered by that natural disaster.

By contrast, the South Asia earthquake is generating a passionate response among Pakistani and Muslim communities because such a large area affected was in Pakistan.

At Ramadan prayer services Monday night, worshipers at the All Dulles Muslim Area Society in Sterling donated $40,000 in cash and checks to Islamic Relief, a California relief group. Another collection will take place during Friday services at the mosque.

Close to 40 percent of its members have roots in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, said Parvez Khan, operations manager for the mosque.

"It hits home for everyone," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company