Where Are the Donations to Japan?

Yesterday, CNN Money reported that total donations to non-profits in response to the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan last week had just passed the $25 million mark. While that certainly seems like a significant sum of money to raise in the four days, let’s consider these figures.

More than $150 million was raised toward relief within four days of the crisis in Haiti, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, donations exceeded $108 million during the crucial first four days.

This raises the significant question of why the response to Japan’s crisis has been so lackluster in comparison. Even if we wanted to quantify such things, the damage and loss of life certainly isn’t 1/6 of Haiti or 1/4 of Katrina.

So where does this disparity come from?

CNN Money seems to place some “blame” for this phenomenon on the fact that Japan is a highly industrialized first world country.

“Japan is not Haiti and it’s not Indonesia, it’s a developed country with a GDP somewhat similar to our country. It’s not what people typically think of as a country in need of wide-scale international aid,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy.

But as I noted above, the response to Katrina – a disaster on American soil – totaled over $100 million in the first four days. And in total, the Japanese response was quite robust, with donations from individuals and corporations exceeding $13 million.

In fact, one Japanese individual, Takashi Endo, donated $1 million from his personal funds to Katrina relief efforts.

Endo said he was moved when, during a business trip to London, he saw a televised report about a mother separated from her children in the chaos of the flooding in New Orleans. The story so disturbed him he could not sleep that night; the next morning he resolved to do something to help.

Now, I know most of us don’t have $1 million to send off to Japan, but contemplate this for a minute. This one individual donated the equivalent of 1/25 of our entire response so far.

So where does this disparity come from?

One could argue that the coverage of the damaged caused by Katrina focused predominantly on the plight of the poor and minorities, trapped on top of submerged homes or a festering Superdome. And the same goes for the underdeveloped nations such as Haiti.

But coverage of Japan’s tragedy has focused on the human element as well. Entire families swept away in an instant. Ancestral homes buried under mountains of debris. Fathers desperately digging out cars from oceans of mud, only to discover that their wives and children ones are no longer inside.

And in addition to this human tragedy, the constant threat of nuclear disaster looms over the entire nation. Every news segment is dominated by Japan’s desperate attempt to contain any fallout that may result from their damaged nuclear power plants.

So where does this disparity come from?

Perhaps the answer lies within Facebook.

In the hours after the disaster, as the enormity of the tragedy was coming to light, Facebook was flooded with status messages claiming that the earthquake and tsunami were karmic payback for Pearl Harbor. Here’s one such sample:

Although it’s easy to mock Amber’s comment about “to many chinese” being in Japan, her post sums up the attitudes that offer an explanation for America’s slow response to this crisis. Now, I’m not suggesting that most Americans think of this disaster as some kind of punishment from God. Far from it. But at the core of these heinous posts is this sense of the Asian as the Other. They’re a sneaky invading horde that’s indistinguishable and wholly interchangeable. Why do they deserve any sympathy at all?

And before you start to assume that this classification of the Asian as the Other is limited to uneducated renecks from the South, think again. It might be closer to your doorstep than you think.

I’m almost certainly simplifying this issue. And I’m sure that certain friends of this site will happily debate the economic reasons for the lack of American response. But for the time being, it’s food for thought.

In any case, texting to the Red Cross is great, but please take a minute to donate even a dollar more. CNN has a great resource that breaks down all the nonprofits that could use your help here.

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