By Nadia Prupis, Mar 3, 2010 4:11 PM
When the Indian Ocean earthquake and its subsequent tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in 2004, relief donations from around the world totaled $1.3 billion. Less than a year later, Hurricane Katrina devastated a massive portion of the East Coast, and millions of people around the country opened their wallets and their homes to support the survivors. At the time, many charities worried about the potential for donor fatigue—a decreasing will to support relief efforts. But despite a season of seemingly relentless catastrophes, contributions increased by 6.1 percent from 2004 to 2005. It was a statement about persevering human generosity and empathy.
Five years later, the same charities find themselves in the same situation. January's cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti prompted swift and massive relief responses around the world; at last count, donations exceeded $528 million. Then, about six weeks later, in what should have been the calm after the storm, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Maule Region of Chile. More than two million survivors found themselves homeless, injured, or evacuated.
The death toll climbed past 795 within three days. According to NASA research scientist Richard Gross, the movement was powerful enough to move the Earth's figure axis by three inches and shorten days by 1.26 microseconds. And in the aftermath, after just having proven that charity was alive and well around the globe, most of us—including many world leaders and relief organizations—did little more than stay seated, look around at each other, and say, “Huh?”