Aid flows to China but less to Myanmar

Two major natural disasters this month have created demand for aid. So far the China earthquake is drawing more than the crisis in Myanmar.

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By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Humanitarian relief charities, confronted with back-to-back natural disasters, are scrambling to raise money from Americans and corporations.

Initial figures suggest the China earthquake is capturing more attention than the Myanmar cyclone catastrophe. The American Red Cross alone has raised $9.8 million for the earthquake relief, but has not yet finished tallying its Myanmar figures - although they know it will be less than the China total.

"For both China and Myanmar, there is lots of interest and concern, but there has certainly been more of a response for China," said American Red Cross spokesman Michael Oko.

Chinese government officials reported Monday that the death toll from the May 12 quake - which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale rose to at least 34,073 with another 245,109 people hurt. Authorities have estimated that the final death toll could reach 50,000, while millions more people have been left homeless by the disaster.

Myanmar, popularly known as Burma, was severely rattled by a May 3 cyclone. The military government officials said the storm killed an estimated 78,000 people - although outside agencies say the toll may be closer to 140,000 - and millions need help.

Aid has been flowing in to U.S. aid groups. InterAction, a disaster relief coalition with 165 members, said between $20 million and $30 million had been raised but that only half of the charities had reported in.

Skepticism about Myanmar's government

Much of the disparity in donations for the two disasters can be attributed to Myanmar's government, which has limited foreign aid to the country.

The government has recently loosened many of those restrictions as the crisis has intensified, but many people are still concerned that donations won't go to their intended targets.

"People are still supporting [our Myanmar efforts], but they have been pulling back a little bit because they're skeptical about their funds getting into the country," said Americares spokeswoman Peggy Athaway. The disaster relief group did not immediately have a tally for its donations figures.

Many aid organizations that have been on the ground since before the cyclone hit were able to use donations to buy supplies in local markets. Still, people continue to worry that their donations will not reach those who need it the most.

Media's coverage

With the media focusing its attention away from Myanmar and on to China, the public has also shifted the direction of its donations.

"There is a direct correlation between donations and airtime on television," said Judy Amit, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee chief operating officer.

Amit, who said a tally of donations was not yet available, said one of the main reasons that the Indonesian tsunami disaster in 2005 received unprecedented aid was because images and video of the disaster were quickly available and wide spread.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is not raising money for the China earthquake, has raised more than $1.5 million for the Myanmar disaster though aid has trailed off since the China earthquake.

"Part of the reason is that [Myanmar] isn't giving access to news media," said IRC spokesman Ed Bligh. "There is just more coverage of China now."

Corporations' interest in China

Corporate interests also come into play to determine how much money goes to different charities.

Save the Children has focused its efforts on the Myanmar crisis, raising $10 million compared to $270,000 for the China earthquake, said Anne-Marie Grey, the organization's vice president of leadership. She said corporate donors have given more for China aid.

"They have a significant interest in China," said Grey.

That's because U.S. companies have far more business dealings and relationships in China than in Myanmar.

According to the U.S.-China Business Council, 79 of its 250 members have donated more than $30 million to the cause as of Friday. That includes many major corporations that have decided to match their employees' donations for the disaster.

"Corporations are giving more vigorously to China, because they have economic ties to the country, whereas Myanmar is more isolated," said Oko.

Aid group World Vision said Chinese employees in U.S. companies might also be playing a part.

"There are a growing number of Chinese employees in U.S. corporations, and companies want to show their employees that they care," said Randy Strash, World Vision's strategy director for emergency response. Strash noted that the influence and income of Chinese-Americans is steadily growing and their support is evident in the current crisis.

Disaster relief group Mercy Corps says donations for the China earthquake have surpassed expectations - particularly from people with direct or ancestral ties to China.

"We've seen a robust response, especially from the Chinese Diaspora," said Mercy Corps Communications Director Jeremy Barnacle, who said the organization has raised over $1 million from corporations and individuals for the disaster. He estimates that total will eventually reach $10 million.

Additionally Network for Good, which collects donations for more than one million charities on its Web site, said it has raised more than $215,000 for the earthquake victims. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $1.3 million to the China Ministry of Health to support emergency provision of safe water and control for disease. To top of page

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