More natural disasters could lead to donor fatigue

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A projected increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters will pose challenges to post-disaster philanthropy, warned a federal official late last year.

"I don't think we can continue to depend on the emotional response to a particular crisis as continuing to be the driver that allows individuals--and sometimes even philanthropy at the foundation and corporate level--to be the thing that deploys resources," said Tony Pipa, deputy assistant to the administration within the U.S. Agency for International Development bureau of policy, planning and learning. He spoke Dec. 14 in a Washington, D.C., event of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

What's needed, Pipa said, is more risk management that reduces and mitigates risk.

Disasters open up a very fleeting window of opportunity to consider other alternatives, said David Abramson, deputy director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Following a disaster, there's "an urge to immediately restore, put things back the way they were," Abramson said. But, disasters give an otherwise unattainable opportunity to think about ways to build risk reduction into communities--if the impulse for speed can be overcome.

In general, disaster philanthropy faces the problem of drying up "as soon as the television cameras have turned off," noted Bob Ottenhoff, chief executive officer of the newly formed, Washington, D.C.-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

However, often the most arduous part of recovery occurs after the emergency stage has passed, Ottenhoff added. "Many Americans will think that because we no longer are seeing this on television, it must mean that this disaster has been fixed, it's been solved, it's not an issue anymore."

For more:
- go to the CSIS event webpage (archived audio available)

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