Marketplace Scratch Pad

One right after the other

Scott Jagow Mar 2, 2010

We had an interesting discussion at our morning meeting about the relative nature of events — specifically, the timing of the natural disasters in Haiti and Chile. In terms of aid, it certainly does seem to make a difference.

Did the global outpouring of support for Haiti effect the response to Chile’s earthquake? Maybe. There seems to be donor fatigue after all the telethons and fundraisers for Haiti. And the first response from Chilean officials was: We don’t need assistance. Having seen the reaction to Haiti, were Chilean officials saying “we’re not Haiti”? Or possibly, “don’t deluge us with donations”? After assessing their situation, Chile asked for help, but it was very focused. This comment was picked up by the New York Times:

“Experience over the years and in prior earthquakes, as well as from international cooperation efforts like in Haiti, have left us lessons,” Foreign Minister Mariano Fernández told reporters. “We have to be very precise about what our needs are in order for the assistance to be of any use.”

As each day passes, it becomes clearer in Chile that those needs are huge.

Even though Chile is one of the more developed countries in South America, the Times points out that it has huge pockets of poor people, and many have them have been unreachable so far.

Perhaps the Chilean disaster is worse than first imagined. But even if that’s the case, a lot of the money tied up in Haitian relief cannot be transferred to Chile.
From The Huffington Post:

The proximity of these crises highlights the danger of earmarking funds for one place. For example, if an organization has a surplus of money designated for Haiti, it cannot be moved over to Chile, even if the same group has a presence there and the money is needed. For this reason, organizations will often request that donations go to their general fund so the money can be spent wherever help is needed.

Chile rushed to the aid of Haitians a few weeks ago, and unfortunately, that act of generosity has left Chile short of supplies:

Chilean rescue personnel, soldiers and aid workers played a significant role in Haiti. In fact, some officials said that had left the government short of the plastic sheeting and tents it needed for the nearly 2 million Chileans displaced or otherwise affected by the quake this week.

This was in an Albany, NY paper today:

While college students and other organizations continue to solicit funds for the devastation left by Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000, a Red Cross official said she knew of no efforts for Chile.

So far, Chile’s death toll is under 1,000, a relative fraction of Haiti’s. But what if the Haitian earthquake hadn’t occurred? Would the response to Chile be different? Or what if there was a major outpouring of support for Chile and then the Haitian earthquake occurred?

The proximity of these events does make one think about being prepared and about giving and applying aid with thought and foresight.

You never know what might happen next. Or where.

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