More on Tsunami Aid

A brief reflection on tsunami aid statistics: It’s clear, two weeks after the calamity struck, that most of the world’s wealthier nations have — either through shame or competitiveness or just plain good feeling (why did I list the best alternative last?) — come forward with a significant pile of cash to address the disaster. An updated list from Reuters shows a total of more than $5 billion in government aid pledged. At the top of the list in total contributions: Australia (detailed in this updated earlier post). At the top in per capita (an updated list) is Norway. The list includes some countries you figure don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around, too: Bulgaria, Niger, and Mali, for instance.

The Reuters tally also includes statistics on private giving. The total: about $1.3 billion, and that does not include contributions from the United States.

The scale of the disaster is so vast, and the amount of money committed so far to relief seems to have mounted so quickly, it’s hard to get a handle on how well the need is being met. (And of course, even the total of $6 billion plus is small compared to the amount of money the world’s only superpower — oh, hey, that’s us — is dropping in Iraq. Our rough expenditure on that little mission of mercy tops $7 billion — every month.

Maybe a more pertinent piece of context is this: the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, which destroyed about 3,000 dwellings and killed 25 people, reportedly caused between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in damage (insurers are said to have paid out $1.7 billion). Insured losses for the 2004 hurricane season in Florida (something like 120 people killed) have been put at $17.5 billion. Even making allowances for the way property is valued in the United States, the $6 billion-plus promised to South and Southeast Asia so far is just the beginning of dealing with the disaster.

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