Charities raising money for humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq have reported disappointing results so far, mainly because U.S. donors haven't yet perceived a substantial need for private philanthropy in that country, Newhouse News Service reports.
One reason is that the war has not caused the full-blown humanitarian crisis many expected. The United Nations, for example, had predicted that up to 1.5 million refugees would leave Iraq for neighboring countries, but charity operations set up at the borders have received very few people. In addition, many Americans believe the U.S. government's $2.5 billion commitment to relief and reconstruction efforts will cover what needs to be done. Charity officials, however, say that's just a drop in the bucket and add that their own work is especially crucial in the early stages of recovery, when many lack safe water and medical care.
Relief groups also say media coverage of Iraq hasn't motivated people to contribute. Matthew De Galan, chief development officer for Mercy Corps, pointed out that in 1999, when television broadcasts showed Kosovo refugees fleeing in fear, his organization raised $1.6 million for efforts there in twenty-one days. Even with an advertising campaign, Mercy Corps has raised only about $280,000 in the same period for Iraq, where the media has focused mainly on the battlefield and, more recently, looting.
"Unfortunately, the images folks are seeing on the TV lately are of Iraqis looting their country, which is not likely to prompt people to dig deeply into their pockets," said James Bishop, director of humanitarian response for InterAction, an alliance of 160 international relief and development groups.
Because charities were not allowed to enter Iraq during the war, relief groups are just beginning to assess needs in the country. CARE, which is already at work in Baghdad, plans to design targeted solutions before approaching donors. "We could go out and be very vague right now and say CARE will respond, just give to help Iraq," said Brian Cowart, the organization's director of direct marketing. "But our donors expect us to be more specific."