Blame it on George Clooney. When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti on January of this year he was at the forefront of Hollywood’s response to the disaster. As a result of him jumping on board, many A-list celebrities followed fashion and raised awareness by doing what they do best: Entertain. Everybody was suddenly involved and interested in this small Caribbean republic that had been struggling in abject poverty for many years before the earthquake. The cause also benefited from awards season in Hollywood. Anybody who’s anybody in the business had a nice ribbon pinned to the lapels of their expensive tuxedos and gowns to raise awareness. There were concerts, aggressive, teary-eyed coverage by news media, and even the unthinkable happened, a Bush/Clinton coalition, which I’m certain for many people was a sure sign of the Apocalypse. This unified front had a loud voice, and nations all over the world pledged economic help and human resources.
The United Nations is baffled by the poor response to Pakistan’s plight, a nation that, as of now, has one-fifth of its territory under water. Fourteen million people have been affected, and about 248,000 homes have been destroyed in one of the worst floods in recent history. The flooding has also destroyed about 1.38 million acres of farmland in the mostly agricultural regions of Punjab, Swat Valley and Sindh province. This means the main source of sustenance for millions of people is effectively gone.
Humanitarian organizations are in a race against time. There is already a massive shortage of food, drinking water and medicine. Power and gas supplies have been cut, so people can’t properly cook their food or boil water. The relentless monsoon rains have not really stopped and that has made rescue efforts even more difficult.
The priority for many agencies right now is to provide shelter to the millions that have lost everything. Another main concern is waterborne diseases, and the very real fear of an outbreak of any deadly disease, such as cholera. Getting food, drinking water and supplies has proved difficult, also, because the bridges leading to these communities have collapsed or have been washed out by the water.
Your surefire organizations for donations are of course www.redcross.org and www.unrefugees.org, which is currently providing displaced families with tents, blankets and supplies. One of the biggest grassroots organizations in the US, www.moveon.org, with more than five million members, is also championing this cause. At www.mercycorps.org you can create your own fundraising page with tools provided at their web site.
In an ideal world, we would not need any gimmicks to compel us to donate, but because it isn’t, on September 5, TV actor Misha Collins (“Supernatural”) ran 83 km for two good causes: Pakistan and three orphanages in Haiti, that are supported by the actor’s oddly devoted, but well-organized fan base. They have raised more than $95,000 so far. You can go to www.therandomact.org where they will continue to accept donations for a week after the marathon.
When I say blame George Clooney, I don’t really mean it, of course. He used his Hollywood muscle to help as much as he could. But maybe we have become preconditioned that, if there is no high-profile concert or fundraiser, then the cause loses worth in our media obsessed minds. We want to help, but shouldn’t we be entertained first? Then we’ll gladly pony up those $20 dollars.
It’s been seven months since the Haiti earthquake, and the early enthusiastic response has been replaced by sighs and a “I wish I could do more” attitude before changing the channel to the Food Network or “Jersey Shore.”
In Pakistan’s case, the UN had made an initial appeal for $459 million for immediate relief efforts. Only 40 percent – about $184 million – had reached the affected areas. An additional $43 million had been pledged by the time I wrote this article. I can’t say I’m baffled by the poor response. The fact is that the average American knows very little about Pakistan, mostly that it is a Muslim nation with an uneasy diplomatic history with the US; this hardly helps matters.
Social media has inadvertently turned into an ally of fund raising, and anybody with a Facebook or Twitter account can now easily trend and access many charities and nonprofit organizations, where all you are required to do is make a single click to donate, making it increasingly difficult to find an excuse for not helping out.
Let’s stop expecting star-studded concerts or flashy fundraisers to shake us into action. Millions of people stranded in the water waiting for a single click should do the job.