Why We've Given Less To Pakistan's Flood Victims Americans have given $25 million so far to help victims of Pakistan's flood disaster -- far less than the U.S. donations made in the immediate aftermath of other major disasters. Experts cite the relative lack of news coverage, attitudes toward Pakistan and the nature of the disaster itself.

Why We've Given Less To Pakistan's Flood Victims

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Americans have been slow to open their wallets to help victims of the disaster in Pakistan. According to Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, donations so far total just $25 million. Five weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, earlier this year, Americans had given $900 million.

Here's NPR's Brett Neely.

BRETT NEELY: Almost everyone I spoke to agreed that there are at least three reasons why it's been hard raising money for this disaster. First, it's a flood.

Mr. RANDY STRASH (Strategy Director for Disaster Response, World Vision): Earthquakes, regardless of their location, under the same circumstances will raise 10 to 15 times more from the private donors than a flood.

NEELY: That's Randy Strash of World Vision, a Christian relief agency that works worldwide, including Pakistan. Strash says floods are slow moving and usually less lethal than earthquakes.

Mr. STRASH: I think people tend to use the number of dead as a barometer of how bad the disaster is.

NEELY: About 1,500 people have lost their lives in Pakistan so far, compared with over 200,000 in Haiti. But the humanitarian situation in Pakistan may be worse, with millions more people affected by the disaster.

The second reason is news coverage, or, says Nan Buzard at the American Red Cross, lack thereof.

Ms. NAN BUZARD (Senior Director of International Response & Programs, American Red Cross): There hasn't been that much media coverage relative to the kinds of coverage that we certainly saw in Haiti and many other disasters.

NEELY: The Haitian earthquake got 10 times more U.S. news coverage than the floods in Pakistan, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Without a stream of stories and vivid images playing over and over on cable TV, Buzard says it's easy for the public to forget that there's a disaster going on and donations drop off.

The last reason is what's known as donor fatigue. About 40 percent of American households donated money to Haiti. Mike Delaney of Oxfam America says many families may just be tapped out.

Mr. MIKE DELANEY (Director of Humanitarian Response, Oxfam America): The fact that people were so generous with Haiti and we're in difficult economic environment at this time, I think it makes it more difficult for people to give to Pakistan as a result.

NEELY: But that's not always true. Americans donated $150 million for relief efforts after a large earthquake struck Pakistan in October of 2005, not long after Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Only one charity that I spoke to reports no difficulties raising money for Pakistan. Islamic Relief USA has doubled its fund-raising goal to $10 million after the money poured in.

Timing played an important role, says spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed.

Ms. RABIAH AHMED (Spokesperson, Islamic Relief USA): The majority of our donors are Muslims, and this happened right before the month of Ramadan. And so Ramadan is the time for Muslims to be generous and to give to the people that are in need, anyway.

NEELY: But there are also concerns religion may have played a role in another way. The campaign to halt a planned Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan and anti-Muslim remarks by politicians may have made some Americans wary of giving money to Muslim Pakistan.

Una Osili is with Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy and says it doesn't help that before the flood, headlines about Pakistan were not flattering.

Ms. UNA OSILI (Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University): There is a strong association with Pakistan and terrorism right now, and that may also explain the differential response that we have observed.

NEELY: With donations running low, charities operating on the ground in Pakistan are worried. Randy Strash says World Vision has only raised $1 million in private donations so far and may have to scale back its $20 million relief effort.

Is that discouraging?

Mr. STRASH: Ah. Well, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STRASH: But at the same time, you know, giving is voluntary. You can't force people to give. You have to present the case as strongly as you can.

NEELY: And with U.N. officials warning that millions of weakened flood survivors are facing disease and hunger, Strash hopes Americans can still find a way to reach a little deeper in their pockets.

Brett Neely, NPR News.

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