Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2004 / 19 Teves, 5765

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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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."

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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 heed.

"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 incredibly generous."

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 deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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