America the Ungenerous

As the Haitian tragedy unfolds, the question of what America will be prepared to do address the disaster engulfing that island nation has arisen.   Inevitably the knives will be drawn, much as they were following the 2004 Tsunami in southern Asia.

Then, Jan Egeland, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, criticized the U.S. commitment as “stingy” despite the fact that the U.S. pledges far exceeded those of all European nations.

Yet in actual dollar contributions, the U..S. should be regarded as the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid by far. By nature, humanitarian aid must be tailored to individual crises: Every single famine, earthquake, flood, or other disaster is unique and requires different types of aid and different strategies. As death tolls climbed in the wake of the disaster in Southeast Asia and the needs of the survivors became clearer, the United States upped its humanitarian aid commitments to the region to $35 million, and the total of U.S. contributions  private and public continue to climb to $75 m by the end of 2005.

Americans are by nature givers.   In 2006, Americans gave about $295 billion to charity. This was up 4.2 percent over 2005 levels, and charitable giving has generally risen faster than the growth of the American economy for more than half a century. Correcting for inflation and population changes, GDP per person in America has risen over the past 50 years by about 150 percent, while charitable giving per person has risen by about 190 percent. That is, the average American family has gotten much richer in real terms over the past half century, and charitable giving has more than kept pace with this trend.

According to the late Gary Tobin, in a report he co-authored in 2005   American Mega-Giving: A Comparison to Global Disaster Relief

In 2003, the latest year for which conclusive aggregate data are available,
Americans gave $241 billion to charitable causes. In comparison, the European country
with the greatest tradition of giving, Britain, reportedly gave £7.1 billion in 2003, or
approximately $14 billion. Even after adjusting for population differences, British
giving – unmatched in the European Union – constitutes less than one third of American
philanthropy. On average, giving from 1995-2000 for France follows with just over $4
billion, $20 billion adjusted for population, and then Germany with approximately 3.5
billion, $12.25 billion adjusted for population.   America far outpaces its Western
counterparts that have the capability to give much more than they currently do. “

Before the financial crash of 2008, national giving had skyrocketed to record amounts according to Giving USA Foundation, which reports on national charitable contributions.

So far, the United States has provided 600,000 daily rations to Haiti and has mobilized $48 million worth of food assistance, which will be enough to feed 2 million people for several months.

So Barack Obama’s pledge of $100 m in ultimate aid relief in Haiti is completely in keeping with an American tradition of aid and support to disaster beset nations.   Lets hope, this time,  we see the rest of the world  match its own rhetoric on philanthropy with action.


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