August 14, 2008

More Than $110-Million Raised for Disasters in Asia

American nonprofit groups have raised more than $110-million for victims of the natural disasters that hit Myanmar and China in May.

As charities make the transition from providing food and medicine to helping rebuild homes and schools, some say the money raised may not meet all the longer-term needs.

In Myanmar, a feared “second wave” of deaths from disease never materialized, but charities are now worried about people going hungry. The cyclone destroyed 80 percent of crops in the worst-hit region, said Randy Strash, strategy director for emergency response at World Vision.

In China, where the government has led aid efforts, recovery has gone more quickly than some relief workers anticipated.

But with an estimated 15 million people affected by the disaster, charity leaders warn the rebuilding phase will take years.

“I think we’ll find that even with all this money raised it’s not quite enough for the recovery,” said Alex Mahoney, manager of disaster programs for Asia, Europe, and the Middle East at the American Red Cross.

His group has raised far more than any other American charity — $45-million — for China. Corporate donations made up more than a third of that total.

Money raised by American donors, however, has been dwarfed by giving to the Red Cross Society of China and other local groups.

Aiding Georgia

As efforts to rebuild China and Myanmar begin, many groups are also raising money to help people who have fled their homes because of violence in the nation of Georgia.

The International Rescue Committee and Save the Children have estimated that it will cost at least $1-million each to meet immediate needs.

Many other groups are also approaching foundations and collecting donations via their Web sites.

“If the cessation of violence holds, it’s likely people will be able to return relatively quickly to their homes,” said Janet M. Harris, the committee’s vice-president for development. “We’ll be watching the crisis as it unfolds, to see if it does indeed unfold into something larger.”

‘Very, Very Tough’

In Myanmar, relief workers who have provided aid the last few months have faced a struggle. Like many Americans, Richard Walden, president of Operation USA, which raised about $153,000 for the crisis and $481,000 for China, never received a visa to enter the country and has been working through local charities.

“It’s been very, very tough,” he said. “People have had cargo seized. It’s been frustrating, but a good learning experience.”

Many groups have been forced to scale back their efforts because of problems entering the country and moving around once they are inside. Workers face harassment by government officials and some parts of the country remain accessible only by boat.

An additional constraint facing aid workers is the U.S. government sanctions against Myanmar. While the Treasury Department eased the sanctions following the cyclone, they are scheduled to be restored in January.

Several charities are asking the government to extend that time period.

Nonprofit organizations that worked in Myanmar before the storm, including CARE, Save the Children, and World Vision, have had the most luck in raising money. World Vision, which had nearly 600 employees in the country before the disaster, raised $10.5-million for Myanmar, compared with $6.3-million for China.

While the charity generally receives most of its support for emergencies from the general public, it found that foundations, corporations, and wealthy donors were eager to give to recovery efforts in both Myanmar and China. Roughly half of the money the charity raised for Myanmar came from large donors.

“We’re realizing there is equal interest among major donors in funding these life-or-death situations,” said Rachel Wolff, media relations manager for disaster response.

Lots of Volunteers

Recovery efforts in China have been encouraging compared with the frustrations of Myanmar. American corporations with business interests in China have played a significant role in rebuilding. Local volunteers continue to offer assistance in large numbers.

“In some places, the recovery is moving faster than you would have thought initially, compared with some other earthquake experiences I’ve worked in,” said Travis Vail Betz, a field operations officer at the American Red Cross, which has so far committed $14-million of the money it has raised for China.

“It’s getting cold soon, and people know that and know what they need to do to take care of themselves and their families.”

Other fund-raising results for charities that sought money for Myanmar and China follow.

American Jewish World Service has received more than $300,000 for Myanmar. AmeriCares has raised $1.2-million in cash for Myanmar and $1.2-million in cash for China. CARE has raised more than $6.6-million for Myanmar. Catholic Relief Services has raised $3.5-million for Myanmar and $692,000 for China. Direct Relief International has brought in $800,000 for Myanmar and $200,000 for China. Food for the Hungry has raised $914,000 for both disasters. Foundation for the People of Burma has raised $1.39-million for Myanmar. Friends of the World Food Program has raised more than $2-million for Myanmar. Give2Asia has received $7.5-million for China and $296,000 for Myanmar. International Medical Corps has raised $400,000 for Myanmar. Lions Clubs International has raised $90,000 for China from Americans. Lutheran World Relief has raised $253,177 for Myanmar and $138,440 for China. Mercy Corps has raised $7-million for China and $2-million for Myanmar. Oxfam America has raised more than $800,000 for each disaster. Salvation Army has won $251,000 for the two crises. Save the Children has raised $7.16-million for Myanmar and $1.6-million for China. World Vision has raised $10.5-million for Myanmar and $6.3-million for China.