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2010: The Year in Review

December 26, 2010

Pnd_year_review_2010 The year opened on a horrific note, with a January earthquake in Haiti killing an estimated 250,000 people and leaving millions more homeless. While international aid and humanitarian groups rushed to provide assistance, the scale of the destruction, logistical bottlenecks, and bureaucratic red tape seemed to defeat their best efforts. Indeed, by year's end, the situation on the ground had improved only marginally, underscoring yet again the challenges associated with coordinating and sustaining long-term recovery efforts in poor (and poorly governed) countries.

Just a few months later, bad news from Haiti was crowded out by news of a second disaster, this time in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in April. As underwater cameras broadcast live video of the busted well spewing crude into the Gulf at the rate of 50,000 barrels a day, BP and the federal government scrambled to contain the damage. It wasn't until mid-July -- too late for the region's fishing and tourism industries -- that they succeeded in capping the well, but even as the UK-based oil giant pledged tens of millions to clean up the mess and make reparations, the long-term environmental impact of the worst marine oil spill in the history of the industry remained an open question.

As if to confirm the old saying that bad things happen in threes, heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan in July coupled with large-scale deforestation in the Himalayan foothills soon led to unprecedented flooding in the world's sixth-most populous country. As the floodwaters rose throughout the month of August, eventually destroying millions of hectares of crops and upending the lives of some twenty million people, the United Nations moved to mount a relief effort. But whether because of Pakistan's distance from Europe and North America, the problematic security situation in the country, or the relatively low number of casualties, donors in the developed world for the most part responded with expressions of sympathy and turned their attention elsewhere.

On a more upbeat note, a campaign by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to get billionaires on the Forbes 400 list to pledge half their wealth to charity met with surprising success; a White House initiative to identify and leverage support for innovative social problems was launched and, after a stumble or two, gained its footing; and the U.S. economy continued to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Before we close the books on 2010, the editors of PND look back at some of the important philanthropic stories and personalities of the year just passed.

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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