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The unequal distribution of global generosity

International mobilization in reaction to the December 26th tsunami has been inspirational and impressive. Sri Lanka’s social service minister recently announced that the nation had received so many more supplies than were needed that the government was now sending some of the donated material to programs for the elderly and disabled.

Unfortunately global generosity doesn’t apply equally to all the world’s crises. Oxfam International just issued a press release pointing out that, while the global reaction to the tsunami is impressive, the 15 world crises identified by the UN are receiving far less funding – roughly 4% of the money the UN believes is needed. According to the release, the international community has donated $500 for each person affected by the Asian tsunami, but roughly $0.50 for each person affected by the ongoing conflict in northern Uganda.

The UN’s appeal for Sudan has attempted to raise $1.5 billion – less than 5% has been committed, or roughly $16 per person. The locust-related famine in West Africa has received no funding at all in response to UN requests for aid. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Bangladeshi peacekeepers were recently killed in ongoing fighting in the Ituri region, the UN has received 0.4% of the money they’ve requested for aid.

The media student in me wants to offer possible explanations for the different levels of international commitment and media attention to these situations. Perhaps we’re more generous in responding to natural disasters than to manmade ones, like the ongoing conflicts in DRC, Sudan and Uganda. Or perhaps more people from the US and Europe have been to Southeast Asia as tourists than have been to Central Africa, and that they feel a personal connection to those countries. Perhaps there’s a cynical political explanation – countries like India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have political and economic importance to the US and EU, while Central Africa doesn’t. Or perhaps it’s just a lot of work to explain the complexities and nuance of the conflicts in Central Africa, while a really big wave is easy for everyone to comprehend.

Even if you’re a UN skeptic – and I won’t deny that there are some good reasons to be skeptical – there are ways to have a positive, personal impact on these conflicts by supporting organizations that work on relief efforts in Uganda, DRC and Sudan. I support Doctors without Borders, who do consistently good work in countries that the media doesn’t pay much attention to, and urge you to do likewise.