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2011 Year in Review: A Disastrous Twelve Months

December 29, 2011

Fourteen months after a magnitude 7.0 quake brought devastation to Haiti, disaster on an epic scale struck again in March when the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan triggered huge tsunami waves that inundated coastal regions of the Tohoku region. The twin disasters, which claimed the lives of nearly 16,000 people and displaced some 440,000 people, also were responsible for a series of partial meltdowns and releases of radioactive material at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex on the coast northeast of Tokyo, resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and raising global concerns about the safety of nuclear power.

The initial response to the disaster -- which, with an estimated economic cost north of $200 billion, figures to be the most expensive in history -- was one of restraint, as the Japanese government asked donor governments and individuals in other countries to hold off on providing emergency assistance until it could more clearly identify needs in the stricken region. A week after the disaster, the fifteen largest relief organizations had raised the relatively modest total of $25 million -- a figure that eventually surpassed $160 million -- with most of that collected by the American Red Cross. The global corporate community, on the other hand, moved quickly to assist one of its biggest trading and investment partners, contributing over a $137 million for relief efforts in just three and a half days.

Closer to home, spring brought unusually violent weather to the United States, as first Alabama, where more than three hundred people were killed and thousands left homeless after more than a hundred tornadoes ripped through the state in April, and then Joplin, Missouri, large portions of which were leveled by a killer tornado in May, bore the brunt of the assault.

An entirely different kind of disaster, severe drought, tightened its grip on the Horn of Africa as spring turned to summer. Indeed, by mid-July drought conditions had left more than twelve million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and neighboring countries in need of emergency assistance, and parts of southern and central Somalia were later declared famine zones by the UN. Much of that territory, of course, was controlled by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has prevented many international aid organizations from operating in the region. As the crisis intensified, the U.S. government issued new guidelines making it easier for such groups to deliver needed food to famine-stricken parts of the country without fear of prosecution -- a decision hailed by most NGOs, even though it appeared to apply only to the situation in Somalia.

Pakistan, which continues to struggle with its own Islamist and tribal insurgencies, was hit with serious flooding in August for the second consecutive year, resulting in another sluggish response from that South Asian country’s feckless government -- and a lukewarm relief effort from the international community.

In contrast, even the best-laid disaster-preparedness plans were no match for Hurricane Irene, which in August left a trail of destruction from South Carolina to Vermont, causing at least 56 deaths and an estimated $7.2 billion in damage, before finally exhausting itself over Labrador.

After yet another major quake, this one in eastern Turkey in October, it looked as if the year would end on a quiet note. But then flash floods struck the Philippines in late December, causing more than nine hundred deaths and bringing to a close a year that, in disaster terms, will go down as one for the record books.

Related Links:

Businesses, Charities Step Forward With Assistance for Stricken Japan (3/15/11)

Donations to Japan Quake Relief Efforts Trickling In (3/16/11)

Corporate Donations to Japan Earthquake Relief Efforts May Surpass Haiti Contributions (3/17/11)

U.S. Relief Organizations Defer to Japanese Agencies as Rescue Efforts Continue (3/18/11)

Fundraising for Japan Disaster Relief Surpasses $100 Million Mark (3/22/11)

One Month After Disaster, Red Cross Commits Additional $40 Million for Japan Relief (4/13/11)

American Red Cross Contributes Additional $30 Million for Recovery Efforts in Japan (5/02/11)

Needs Mount as Alabama Digs Out After Tornadoes (5/04/11)

Organization Formed to Spur Recovery in Tornado-Ravaged Joplin (6/22/11)

Disaster Relief Agencies Raised $22.3 Million for Tornado Relief Efforts in Alabama (7/26/11)

Somalia Famine Aid Trickles In (8/03/11)

U.S. Issues New Guidelines Loosening Aid Restrictions to Famine-Stricken Somalia (8/04/11)

United Arab Emirates Pledges $1 Million to Joplin High School (8/13/11)

Red Cross Contributions to Japan Tsunami Relief Efforts Reach $260 Million (8/24/11)

Corporations, Foundations Pledge $1.75 Million to Hurricane Irene Disaster Relief Efforts (9/02/11)

International Red Cross Begins Major Aid Push in Somali Famine Zones (10/06/11)

Turkish Red Crescent, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Mount Earthquake Recovery Operations (10/25/11)

Coca-Cola Foundation Awards $1 Million to Turkish Red Crescent Society (10/27/11)

UN Launches 2012 Somalia Aid Appeal, Warns About Impending Crisis in the Sahel (12/14/11)

Lilly Endowment Awards $1.5 Million to Joplin Recovery Fund (12/24/11)

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