Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2004 / 19 Teves, 5765
Ingrates of the world unite
Environmentalists are under the curious delusion that Nature is in imminent
danger of being destroyed by us. The tsunami that struck the nations
bordering on the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas should remind us that
the truth is the other way 'round.
Nature is majestic, and often beautiful (though there is little that is
beautiful in a malarial swamp or in a landscape ravaged by molten lava from
an erupting volcano). But the key thing to note about Nature is that she is
extremely powerful, and that from our human perspective Nature
frequently uses her power in capricious and cruel ways.
An underwater earthquake created, in less than two hours, tidal waves 30
feet and greater in height which smashed like matchsticks coastal
communities from Indonesia to the horn of Africa.
The result was a human tragedy of unspeakable dimensions. At this writing,
more than 110,000 people are known to have been killed by the tsunami, a
figure most expect to rise. Several times that number have lost their homes
and their livelihood.
The U.S., as usual, is providing the lion's share of relief to the tsunami
victims. The first major international help to arrive in Thailand came in 9
USAF C-130s laden with emergency supplies from Yokota AFB in Japan. Two
U.S. Navy battle groups are speeding to the region.
This military assistance is not counted as part of the $35 million in aid
the U.S. government has so far pledged, which is more than any other
country. Total U.S. government aid eventually will exceed $1 billion,
Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
This didn't impress Jan Egelund, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian
Affairs and Emergency Relief. He said Tuesday the U.S. and other rich
nations were being "stingy."
That browned off President Bush, who pointed out that 40 percent of all
emergency aid provided worldwide by governments to victims of natural
disasters last year was provided by the United States.
Egelund has backed off his charge, but it's been taken up by others,
including the editors of the New York Times.
The basis for it is that the U.S. devotes only 0.14 percent of gross
domestic product to foreign aid, according to figures compiled by the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Paris-based
organization's figures do not include humanitarian assistance provided by
the U.S. military, or U.S. food aid.
But the OECD's big omission is private charity. As of Wednesday night, The
American Red Cross had received $18 million in donations; Doctors without
Borders, $4 million; CARE USA $3.5 million; Save the Children, $3 million;
AmericaCares, $2 million; Oxfam America, $1.6 million, and Catholic
Charities, $1.13 million.
Private donations from Americans so far exceed contributions from any
governments save our own, and dwarf private contributions from the rest of
the world. Yet overpaid international bureaucrats like Egelund pay them no
"That fine gentleman from the United Nations was misguided and ill
informed," said Dean Owen of World Vision, whose group has received $1
million in donations since the tsunami struck. "Americans have been
After the U.S. military, private charities provide the best means of getting
help to the needy, fast. Government aid programs tend to be twisted by
politics, bloated by bureaucracy, and riddled with corruption.
Though lesser, these problems are not unknown to private groups, so donors
should be careful in choosing the vehicle through which they seek to help.
My wife is Jewish, but she insisted we make our contribution through the
Salvation Army. Pam used to be an attorney for Save the Children, where she
learned that very little of the money the group was raising actually was
going to poor children. Many other prominent charities also spend a good
deal more on "overhead" such as pay and perks for their senior executives
than they do on charitable work, she said. Only through religious groups
the Salvation Army in particular can a donor expect to get much bang for
his or her buck.
The worst offender, by far, Pam says, is UNICEF. This makes Egelund's
charge especially churlish. But what else should we expect from the
organization that brought us the Oil for Food scandal?
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
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