Increasing Numbers Of Humanitarian Crises Limit The Amount Of Financial Aid Wealthy Countries Can Provide
A second massive earthquake shook the region outside of Kathmandu in Nepal on Tuesday, leaving masses huddled in the street out of concerns over devastating structural collapses like the ones that leveled the capital city just two weeks earlier. Fortunately, dozens of ground response teams were already in place to provide relief to the families of the 50 or more individuals killed and the additional 1,261 injured in the quake. Even with readily available assistance, however, regional officials and humanitarian workers have bemoaned the slow trickle of financial aid to Nepal from the wealthier global community — and with economic uncertainty and crisis-funding already in a beleaguered stranglehold, it might take a while for the region to see more than just a fraction of their requested funds.
The United States Geological Survey preliminary estimates put Tuesday's quake at a magnitude of around 7.3 on the Richter scale. Residents as far away as nearby Assam in Northern India, told The Times of India that tremors could be felt deep within the city limits, but the area did not suffer any major structural damage.
"The mountains before my eyes started tumbling down in massive landslides," explained engineering student Prakash Banjara to The New York Times on Tuesday. Banjara had been stationed as an aid worker in Sindhupalchowk District and was tasked with delivering rice to remote villages when the earthquake hit. "We are clinging together on the road, hoping the clouds will go away," he said, indicating that he and the rest of his group had been stranded on the rural roads, desperately waiting for assistance of their own.
Response efforts on the ground have been relatively timely, despite the magnitude of both disasters — it's the money that has officials wringing their hands now.
"The international community seems quite reluctant to provide material," U.N. Nepalese response coordinator Jamie McGoldrick told the Times. After the initial 7.8-magnitude quake back in April, national authorities requested around $423 million in aid funding from the global community, but despite seemingly generous pledges by a few Western countries, the real totals simply weren't nearly enough to bridge the gap.
In late April, after news of the quake hit American headlines, the U.S. government pledged a sum of $10 million dollars to help with financial aid efforts and sent over scores of relief workers and military ground personnel. Japan, which was hit by a similarly devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, pledged around $8.4 million. Hours after the quake, the United Kingdom pledged $7.6 million, half of which would be funneled through the British Red Cross. To the average citizen, large donation amounts like those given by wealthy nations loom high overhead, but the truth of the matter is that the totals are minuscule in the grand scheme of things.
Consider that the United States spends, on average, an estimated $6 billion per year on Congressional salaries and benefits alone or that, in 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent more than $100 million on a remote Alaskan harbor and unused airport. Of course, one could argue that the costs of both of those things were unimportant or unreasonable, but perhaps a better answer to the financial shortfall dilemma felt in Nepal would be to explore the current allocation of foreign aid funding and the stresses placed on many governments to invest in the explosive situations around the world.
In recent years, for example, Britain has exhaustively pledged its £8.6 billion (that's nearly $14 billion USD) in aid funding to numerous regions around the globe, divvying up varying sums from £158 million (around $247 million USD) in embattled Nigeria to an additional £197 million in Pakistan and beyond. In Nepal, British officials have, over the past few years, already promised approximately £6 million annually prior to the response efforts last month.
The United States too, still reeling from the economic collapse of 2010, has spent much of its foreign seed money on varying pursuits. According to government figures out of the Foreign Assistance department, the United States in 2014 spent more than $72 million on aid funding to Nepal, primarily to assist in the "successful transition to a more democratic" system within the region. In the Ebola-stricken country of Liberia, U.S. officials paid out over $173 million in funding to help stabilize country's military and civilian security services as well as to improve health services. Funding across the Middle East and war-torn North African regions has also topped over half a billion dollars.
As varying humanitarian crises pummel the world stage at an increasingly alarming level, foreign aid money from wealthy nations continues to skyrocket, likely causing international budgets to be tightened. If countries like the United States are eager to pledge more support to ongoing disaster relief efforts in Nepal, the money will need to come from somewhere else in the government's budget.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a federal budgetary watchdog group, suggested in a comment to U.S. News & World Report in 2013, "People want and need [increased disaster relief funding], but we need to plan ahead, understand how to pay for it and reduce or mitigate costs where we can."
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