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Americans Slow to Donate to Cyclone, Earthquake Victims

Disaster Fatigue Hits America: Giving Less to Recent Victims

Donating money for the victims of the Myanmar cyclone and the Chinese earthquake has not been an easy sell. Americans have given $12.1 million so far to the Myanmar cause, compared to the $1.92 billion that was collected for the 2004 Tsunami, and $5.3 billion for Hurricane Katrina. Donation amounts for China are not yet known.

One AP writer suspects that Americans have come down with "disaster fatigue." The article explains that the more bad news there is, the less likely Americans are to give. Americans, who unconsciously clump distinct occurrences as "faraway disasters" may feel helpless when hearing of mounting, and incomprehensible death tolls. Thus, by competing to be disaster of the moment, China and Myanmar have unknowingly dissuaded charitable individuals.

There may be other factors leading to a light trickle of donations. For some other explanations,


China and Myanmar are isolated countries, which restrict international access. Their governments, a communist oligarchy and military junta respectively, may make Americans weary that their money could end up in the wrong hands. The lack of journalistic access, combined with other dominating stories such as the presidential campaign, may also prevent the cyclone and earthquake from being the hot issue of the moment.

Or maybe Americans could picture themselves as a beach tourist in Thailand back in 2004 or resident of New Orleans, but are having a hard time empathizing with the most recent victims in China and Myanmar.

Do Americans have disaster fatigue, or are there just too many other bills to worry about at home? Can the fatigue notion be applied to other issues, such as the Iraq war? As we hear more bad news, are we tempted to turn a deaf ear?

If you don't have disaster fatigue, and want to help, here are ways you can lend a hand to those in China and Myanmar.


Join The Conversation
rachelrhymes rachelrhymes 9 years
i think its mainly because of our economy. people can't afford to buy gas to get to their jobs... they certainly can't afford to give money to other countries. its depressing and sad, but inevitable with the American dollar so weak
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
I don't know. I donate money throughout the year to an international humanitarian aid organization of some sort. Whenever there is a disaster, I divert my usual donation to relief efforts. I donated money a while ago for the folks in Burma. I hope the junta will at least let the UN through, for heaven's sake. Regardless of how bad our economy gets, we still have the privilege of food availability, shelter and security here in the USA. A lot of people don't have it so great. Not to mention, a lot of these people don't have governmental agencies (e.g. FEMA) to bail them out in times like these. As terrible as Katrina was, compare the numbers of deaths resulting from Hurricane Katrina to those from the earthquake in China and the tornado in Burma. We can judge the governments all we want, but their citizens are still people... as long as there are still compassionate npo's out there that can get in and help these people, I'll continue to support them.
janneth janneth 9 years
Some people prefer to give to local charities dealing with the homeless, with schools and churches, etc. They think they can see the results.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I know what we should do. We should just raise taxes. Then we would be able to have the government send money overseas for us. Nevermind who it would actually go to. Just send it. The only people who defraud our government is our people.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
it's really sad to say but i do think that we are feeling a bit of fatigue with donating money to help disaster relief. we can see that even in our own country, there's a slow go at it with helping in new orleans and even in other places (like Florida where i was when the hurricanes destroyed the area there). it's hard becuase you want to do what's right and donate money to help the efforts, but you can only donate so much. especially when we're having such financial crises's just hard.
em1282 em1282 9 years
I don't know, I think it's a combo of things. I give donations to three charities at the end of the year when the bonus rolls in, and sometimes I'm a bit too strapped for cash to give at any other time...
Sydney-C Sydney-C 9 years
I'm sorry, but can I tell my boss that I can't make it to work because I donated what little extra I have (which is now being used for gas $$) to Burma? For me, that is the biggest issue, not where the money is actually going...funny that the article doesn't even touch on that reason.
stephley stephley 9 years
I like that Pop.
msmoney23 msmoney23 9 years
You know what? The thing is, many working class people in the United States are hurting financially because of inflation, etc. Yes, we DEFINATELY have it better off in the U.S. than in disaster-stricken lands, but sometimes giving to charity isn't a priority.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
I totally agree that it makes no sense to compare the two events, when there are tons of news stories about how Myanmar is refusing foreign aid. catastrophatigue?
jenikat jenikat 9 years
I think there are many factors that are playing into the low Myanmar donation numbers. I may sound crass, but I think "disaster fatigue" is a sad excuse for not donating to something of this magnitude. I think the majority of the reason is actually because many of us have heard how much of the aid that has been sent over there is not making it to the people who need it. Why would one send money and other aid only for it to never actually benefit the people you want to help? Another problem, which could be quickly labeled as an excuse as well, is our hurting economy, which makes it hard to put forth extra money towards charity. Think about it though...despite how much it costs to fill up your tank these days, to pay your mortgages, and credit card bills, this is -still- so much easier than the life the Myanmar's even lived before the disaster. I'm not saying that if you're in the hole, you need to dig yourself deeper into debt by donating... I'm just saying, remember how fortunate we are.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Wow, this entire story is a lot of random speculation. I agree that the Burmese regime's closed doors don't encourage charity. I don't trust China much more. Frankly, it also irritates me that our government can get aid to Burma faster than they did to New Orleans. But I think hypnotic called it most effectively: our cost of living is climbing fast, there's not much left.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I have to agree with Sy on this one. I am a little apprehensive about donating money not knowing how it will be distributed. However more then anything right now a lot of Americans are in a crunch with finances.... and lastly disaster fatigue ...well I have news fatigue period. :oy:
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Sorry the bills come first, then the charities.
NYFashionista NYFashionista 9 years
hmm...I'm not sure how I feel about the assumptions made by these reporters. First of all, as many have said before, we aren't even sure if our money is reaching those in need in Burma (or China). As much as I would love to help and donate, it's hard parting with money that might instead support the military regime. Second, to compare Katrina to these disasters is a bit unfair. One is more inclined to help ones own people before helping others (whether this is right or wrong, I'm not going to judge because as long as you HELP people that's what matters). The katrina disaster hit home and impacted us more directly than the earthquake or cyclone has. Third, as we know Americans aren't doing well right now economically. It's hard to part with money when we are so uncertain of our own future and job stability what with the "decline in growth" (I didn't use "recession" although I think the technicalities are BS).
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
i don't know, i think disaster fatigue suits me perfectly. just when i am going along thinking everything's okay, i hear of another disaster. my brain is tired from trying to put it all in perspective.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
Catastrophe exhaustion Calamity weariness Tragedy drained
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
I personally would rather give my money to people in my area that need it, because really we dont know where our money is going in Myanmars case.
syako syako 9 years
disaster fatigue. I feel like we could come up with a better catch-phrase than that... :ponder: disaster lackluster disaster drain tragedy trite
stephley stephley 9 years
I think it's a combination of our current economy, or fears about the economy, and all the stories about the aid being turned away. I think 'disaster fatigue' is more of a new catch-phrase with reporters on disaster stories.
saucymegstar saucymegstar 9 years
I don't think giving to Myanmar would be helpful since they aren't accepting our help. I would love to help Myanmar but I do not want to support the junta. And China has a much better infrastructure and the ability to deal with the disaster without much use of international aid.
controlledspin controlledspin 9 years
I have seen so many stories about aid being available, and their government not letting them in. It's hard to give $ until you can see that it will get to the people and not rot on a Navy ship in the form of food that they won't let in.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
I heard a story this morning about the uncountable numbers of parents who are devastated by the loss of their only child. I mean, what can you do here in America about that? you can't send them any money or aid that will make up for THAT.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
I'd go with disaster fatigue. a friend of mine had a personal disaster about two years ago to cope with, that really just floored me as well. It made me feel compltely helpless in the face of all of the disasters that can befall a person in life! I had such a hard time reconciling that, that now whenever I hear about a big disaster like China or Myanmar, I almost can't handle it. My empathy level is so strong now that I literally can't spend much time thinking about it. But on the other hand, that makes me feel like I'm not contributing. The only solution I've found to that is to just make a donation to the disaster of the moment, and just trust a higher power that you've done a good thing.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I hear that. I feel terrible for those people in Myanmar, but sending them money just seems like it will never get there.
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