I wrote two weeks ago about the earthquake in Chile and how we should donate to help Chileans, and I promised to post updates about charitable organizations as I had for Haiti. I have not written about Chile since. Why? Updates never became available. I checked, almost every day, for news about Chile and relief efforts, but I never found anything I hadn’t written already, so I never had anything new to write.
Today I read an article on MSNBC.com explaining that charitable donations to Chile are vastly lower than those for Haiti, about $100,000 from Americans, compared to the 4.3 million dollars Americans have donated to Haiti. That’s some shocking math. For every dollar we gave to Chile, we gave 43 dollars to Haiti. Put this another way: If we had taken it upon ourselves to feed the earthquake victims by heading to our local fast food joint, we would have grabbed a single item off the dollar value menu for Chile, but for Haiti, we fed a whole neighborhood.
The article explains this gross disparity by pointing to the disparity in damage caused by the two earthquakes. In Haiti, the earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people and destroyed the homes of at least 1.2 million. In Chile, about 500 people have died and roughly half a million homes are damaged or destroyed. I think many charity-minded people see it the same way, that less destruction calls for less aid. And there may be something to that. But I also think that many charity-minded people think that for each person who has lost a loved one or a home, the grief is the same no matter how many fellow grievers stand beside you.
And in terms of pure math, the physical destruction in Chile is about 40% of the destruction in Haiti, yet our donations to Chile amount to a mere 2% of our donations to Haiti. This is unconscionable.
But I believe this disparity has less to do with the difference in damage than with the difference in media coverage. With Haiti, we experienced the expected–and necessary–blitz of news items and opinion pieces for weeks, and hardly any articles or op-ed pieces dared go to press without an addendum reminding us how to donate. For Chile, we got a fair amount of coverage but rarely did I see any mention of charity organizations or relief efforts–and believe me, I’ve been looking. Even the US government is guilty: With Haiti, the White House set up a relief hotline of sorts and provided a convenient web badge (which I have on my home page) to direct people to various reputable donation sites. For Chile, the White House has made no such effort.
When Haiti’s earthquake hit, my friend Lori Ann Bloomfield elegantly wrote about the importance of writing with compassion and of using our writing to benefit others. I think we writers have failed Chile in that respect. Let me attempt to make up for it here: The MSNBC article I mentioned above, and which I’ll link to again here, lists at the end a series of numbers by which you can make text donations. There is also a link to an older donation list, which you can find here. The Huffington Post, which was an early reporter of donation possibilities, still has its list online; I linked to it in my earlier post, and I’ll link to it again here. And since no one I can find is offering a handy web badge for donations to Chile, I’m making one myself. Look for it on the home page soon, and feel free to use it yourself.