March 10, 2010
On the heels of an earthquake which devastated Haiti, a mammoth 8.8-magnitude earthquake shook Chile, killing at least 700 people. The quake was so massive, NASA scientists say it could shorten the length of a day by a little over one millisecond.
While Chile's seismic activity registered as the seventh-most powerful earthquake in recorded history, that power hasn't come close to motivating the kind of benevolent giving that Haiti experienced.
The reasons vary for the drastic difference in giving.
It is no secret that Haiti is a country in desperate need, even before the earthquake. Some experts say Chile, however, was more prepared for such a tragedy. Building codes are also far more stringent that those of Haiti.
"In the first few days, activity around giving to Chile does not seem to be as immediate or extensive as it was during the first few days post-Haiti earthquake," said Adriene Davis, Manager of Public Affairs of The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "We don't know whether that will bear out in the longer term, or why that might be."
Davis speculated some may perceive the need to be not as great for Chile as it was for Haiti in relation to the relative scale of damage. Chile's preparedness and capacity to respond, especially when paired with more media coverage on the Haiti earthquake, could also be factors in increased giving for Haiti. Still, Davis stressed that it is too soon to determine the exact reason for the giving disparity.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy concludes that giving is not only significantly slower, but also "at significantly lower levels than after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti." Donations for Haiti came in much faster and in greater amounts. A slim $250,000 was given by Americans three days following the Chile disaster - a drastic contrast to the nearly $97 million raised three days following the Haiti earthquake.
Haiti's quake left some 200,000 dead and thousands more homeless, prompting appeals to give from international relief organizations. And, as The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found, donations poured into the small country. The Center says donations from Americans have surpassed the $1 billion mark.
Besides the differences in perceived need, many people have already given what they felt they could spare with Haiti.
The current economic downturn has many simply trying to maintain their own livelihood much less help those in need. While a sliding economy didn't seem to detour the generosity of donors for Haiti, supporting ailing Chile may cause tension on tight purse strings.
Convoy of Hope, who has patterned with Mission of Hope in distributing more than 7 million meals in Haiti since the earthquake, says it has seen a marked difference in giving for Chile.
"The response to Chile is much, much smaller compared to what it has been for Haiti. The Haiti earthquake had a feeling of ‘shock and owe,'" said Jeff Nene, Senior Director of Communications & Technology for Convoy. "The fact that it happened in such an under-developed country motivated people to give. People were amazed at the level of damage."
Nene says Convoy of Hope continues to have a substantial presence in Haiti. Two Convoy personnel just deployed to Chile to evaluate the damage.
Chile is known for being one of the more stable South American countries in regards to its government, infrastructure and economy.
Nene also said giving could be down because Chile's president initially declined international assistance - only to retract that comment the next day when it was determined death tolls were double what was initially thought.
Various Chilean newspapers reported widespread criticism for not agreeing quickly enough to offers of international aid and relief. Some social commentators went as far to say pride might have delayed a plea for help.
Associated Press reports, however, that many are pinning hopes on President-elect Sebastian Pinerato to rebuild Chile.
"Chile is a country on the rise, economically strong, with many businesses. And because of this we expected more" of President Michelle Bachelet's leftist administration, said Amanda Ruiz, a secretary in a construction firm. "We're disillusioned."
Numana Inc, a relief organization to feed the hungry internationally based in El Dorado, Kan., has packaged well over 1 million meals for Haiti. Numana president Rick McNary says it continues to focus on Haiti.
"Although I am reluctant to compare catastrophes, Haiti garners the American attention because it is geographically much closer to the US," said McNary. "The devastation and death is much more widespread and larger in scale."
McNary also said the Haitian government was not reluctant to allow foreign aid as its government was destroyed along with thousands of its citizens.
Nene agrees. "Chile is tough to get into and the airports were closed."
Even though the Chilean quake was some 500 times greater than that of the devastation in Haiti, geophysicist and earthquake experts like Tom Dixon claim there has been a disproportionate amount attention given to Chile.
Chilean blogger Maegan la Mamita Mala, with Vivilatino, writes "Comparisons between the quake in Chile and the quake in Haiti are unfair. Chile does indeed have a better infrastructure and more stable government. Chile has more money compared to Haiti. However it is important to note that the gap between rich and poor in Chile is huge."
While it's per capita GDP of $5,500 USD per year places Chile among the top countries in Latin America, almost nowhere on the Continent is the gap between rich and poor larger.
A study by the World Bank several years ago showed the government spent 1.3 percent of its revenue on the poorest 10 percent of Chileans and 40 percent on the richest 10 percent.
Some commentators believe the earthquake exposed the struggle of Chile's poor.
Giving through cell phone texts proved to be a huge success for organizations like the American Red Cross as it responded to the Haiti quake. Donors gave $21 million through text-messaging to Haiti in the first 48 hours while Chile has only received $100,000 through that same cell phone technology.
AT&T Inc. just recently announced its customers can use their wireless phones to donate money via text to support relief efforts in Chile. AT&T offered a similar service to customers who wanted to donate to Haiti relief through the Red Cross International Relief Fund, but has extended the service to a wider variety of nonprofits for this relief effort.
After texting the code, the customer will receive a confirmation message; replying "yes" makes the donation final. All money donated will be passed on to the selected organization, and AT&T will waive text-messaging fees for the donations, the company said.
As international relief organizations regroup from weeks of concerted efforts in Haiti, and now scramble to organize outreach plans for Chile, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Turkey comes knocking with needs of its own. Only time will tell how far and how wide donors can give - whether it be snail-mail, phone banks or text-message donations.
Text "CHILE" to 20222 to donate $10 to support Chile relief efforts through World Vision. The donations will appear as a line item on customers' bills or be debited from prepaid accounts.
Photo of Chile coastline copyright 2010 World Vision.
Russ Jones is co-publisher of the award winning Christian Press Newspaper (ChristianPress.com) and CEO of BIG Picture Media Group, Inc., a boutique media firm located in Newton, Kansas. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri and St. Paul School of Theology. As a former NBC TV reporter he enjoys reporting where evangelical Christian faith and news of the day intersect. He is also president of the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers. Jones is also a freelance reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network. He may be reached at [email protected].