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Year in Review: Disasters in Haiti, Pakistan Spur Divergent Aid Response

December 26, 2010

As we have for the last eight years, we'll be looking back this coming week on the year in philanthropy that was. But this year we're adding a wrinkle and will be sharing individual pieces with our PhilanTopic readers in advance. Our first story looks at the two major natural disasters, in Haiti and Pakistan, that occurred in 2010 -- and the divergent responses mounted in their wake. Let us know if we missed anything.

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Haiti_presidential_palace The year got off to a dreadful start when, barely two weeks in, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Haiti's impoverished capital of Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 220,000 people, injuring 300,000 more, and leaving 1.5 million people homeless in a country that was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

The global response to the disaster was swift, as donor governments, multinational corporations, and humanitarian organizations pledged hundreds of millions of dollars within days of the quake. Notable early commitments included $100 million each from the World Bank; $10 million from the United Kingdom; and $4 million from the Open Society Institute. Individual donors also gave generously to disaster relief efforts, taking advantage of still-young social media and mobile messaging platforms to contribute to international aid and humanitarian organizations, which raised record sums of money in a short period of time. Within three days of the quake, for example, the American Red Cross had raised $37 million for relief efforts in Haiti -- $8 million of that via a text message campaign.

Even as commitments of assistance poured in, international aid workers struggled to reach survivors with food, shelter, and medical care. But as frustration levels among survivors and aid workers mounted, aid groups began to criticize donor nations for releasing pledged funds too slowly. While more than $5.3 billion had been committed by the world's governments by midsummer, including $900 million from the United States, only a third of that had been spent by November.

Indeed, as the international community began to turn its attention to long-term rebuilding efforts, major immediate challenges remained. By year's end, tens of thousands of survivors were still living in tents, medical services remained limited, and Port-au-Prince was littered with rubble. Complicating the situation, long-held fears of a major disease outbreak became a reality in November when cholera claimed the lives of at least a thousand people. In response, the William J. Clinton Foundation pledged an extra $2 million, much of that to address the cholera outbreak, while the U.S. government committed an additional $120 million to recovery efforts.

In stark contrast to the earthquake in Haiti, the Indus River flooding that devastated a large swath of Pakistan beginning in July generated a relatively tepid response from individual donors and the global aid community. Whether because of Pakistan's physical distance from Europe and North America, the problematic security situation in the country, or the relatively low number of casualties, far less money was raised for relief and recovery efforts there. The flooding was a major catastrophe, however, obliterating villages and infrastructure, destroying millions of hectares of crops, killing countless head of livestock, and upending the lives of some twenty million people -- more than the number of fatalities recorded in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti -- combined. In August, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon characterized the crisis as a "slow-motion tsunami" and called on donors to respond to "one of the greatest tests of global solidarity in our times."

Nearly a month after the flooding began, however, only half the $460 million in emergency funding called for by the UN had been raised. And despite a pickup in support from Muslim countries, organizations, and individuals toward year's end, the response from the global community came nowhere close to matching the estimated $43 billion hit suffered by the country's economy.

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