Friday, January 29, 2010

Haitian Giving - It's Not Enough Yet

On a recent broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered ("Haiti Donations Soar Despite Economic Crisis," Jan. 26, 2010), Melissa Brown of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said that giving in the 13 days immediately following the Haiti earthquake outstripped all previous giving efforts, including the previous gold standard: the donations after 9/11. The overall giving has been nearly $520 million dollars already, which is very impressive. As Brown points out, this is in part because systems were immediately put in place - such as the text-giving campaign - that made giving easy.

The average (depending on how you define average) is coming in at about $50 to $150 per person, which most people could probably fit into their budget. In a time of economic trouble, it's heartening that people are able to give this much.

However, one thing occurred to me as listening to this - on a per capita basis, are we really giving more for Haitian relief than we gave for 9/11 relief? Remember that 9/11 also happened during a recession, though it wasn't as severe as the current one.

Consider the 9/11 numbers, as compiled by the New York Magazine. 2,819 people died in the September 11 attacks, 1,609 people lost spouses or partners, 3,051 children lost parents. Let's assume also that, on average, for each person lost, there are 2 parents and one sibling also left behind. Let's also assume that for each widowed person, there are two parents and one sibling. That gives us 20,763 whose lives were directly and profoundly affected by the deaths on 9/11. Let's go ahead and double it, to include close friends and such. So we get about 42,000. In addition, the "by the numbers" count indicates that 422,000 New Yorkers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the events and 146,100 people lost their jobs - so that brings the count up to 610,100 ... let's round up to 750,000 people who are directly affected by the 9/11 disaster, to some degree or another. Okay, let's double it again to 1,500,000 people. This is probably a very generous estimate.

Now, according to these numbers, $1.4 billion was given in donations to 9/11 charities. (This is on top of the $40.2 billion paid out in insurance payments worldwide, plus billions in government expenditures for renovations of downtown Manhattan/etc.) So, just on the charitable side, donations came in at about:

$1.4 billion / 1.5 million people = $933/person affected*

* I am defining "affected" very broadly here, but I'm trying to make a point.

Estimates indicate that 3 million people were affected by the Haitian earthquake - exactly twice as many as September 11 (according to my estimates). Therefore, if we assume that their lives are just as valuable as the lives of people who suffered from September 11 (an assumption that shouldn't be too controversial), then the total amount that we should expect to be donated overall is:

3 million people affected * $933/person affected = $2.8 billion

Now, it's important to remember that these are just the charitable amounts. The government spent billions of dollars in taxpayers money to rebuild infrastructure, and there were billions of dollars in insurance payouts, none of which are figured into these calculations. Haiti has virtually none of this at its disposal ... it's all charity, either by individuals or by other governments. (You could argue that our rebuilding was funded by "charity" from China, in the form of loans, but that's another story.)

So, while it's certainly laudable that we've given so much in such a short period of time, the key thing to remember is that, over the long haul, these people need a lot more help. About $1,000 dollars per life affected would go a long way in a country like Haiti, toward giving them a future worth looking forward to.

We have about $2.28 billion to go.

Let's step up.

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