The $350 million pledge by the U.S. government to aid the victims of the tsunami catastrophe in Southeast Asia represents only the beginning of American generosity.
In a massive outpouring of donations, millions of American citizens have opened their checkbooks to pledge aid to private charities, and thousands of companies have pledged cash and have mobilized resources to provide life-saving supplies.
When private and government contributions are combined, U.S. charity experts expect the total given will likely be in the billions of dollars. The American Red Cross alone expects to raise $400 million to respond to immediate and long-term needs of the tsunami victims.
But while cash pledges from the U.S. government and from American citizens and companies are vital, cash doesn?t save lives: medicine, clean water, and food do. The key to saving lives in the immediate aftermath of the disaster requires a massive mobilization of resources to get medicines and supplies to victims immediately.
The U.S. Navy arrived just days after the disaster to establish beach landings where ports had been wiped out, and it is sending hundreds of helicopter missions to drop packages of food and medicine to the hardest hit areas that are inaccessible by land.
American companies like Pfizer not only are donating cash but also vital medical supplies. Pfizer?s initial pledge of $10 million in cash and $25 million in medicines — including life-saving antibiotics — matched the U.S. government?s initial $35 million pledge of aid.
To help stem the spread of disease through contaminated water, companies that manufacture water purification supplies are working their production lines overtime. ?The scale of what we have been sending out is unprecedented,? said the director of Procter & Gamble?s safe drinking water program. ?I haven?t slept in days.?
GlaxoSmithKline donated not only millions of dollars in cash but millions of doses of antibiotics and vaccines for typhoid and hepatitis. Merck is donating cash and is working with aid agencies on the ground in Southeast Asia to find out what medicines are needed.
FedEx is using its vast airplane fleet to transport 402 tons of these medicines, relief supplies, and water purification systems to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand.
In addition to corporate donations, most companies, like Pfizer, Exxon-Mobil, and Citibank, also have said they will match dollar for dollar their employees? contributions.
All tolled, these private contributions of cash and products have already surpassed the $350 million pledge from the U.S. government.
But the companies are not boasting. Most of the time, you need to use the search engine on their corporate websites to find news releases with information about their donations. They are simply helping to save lives.
Americans, like citizens around the world, are moved and shocked by the devastation. When a disaster of such Biblical proportions hits, the ability to respond immediately requires calling on this existing infrastructure to mobilize assistance.
Charities like the American Red Cross, companies like Pfizer and FedEx, and the U.S. Navy were among the first responders. The combined efforts of major charities, international corporations, and the U.S. military are essential to save as many lives from disease and malnutrition as possible.
It?s important to remember, the next time political leaders start to beat up on big business, how important their products and resources are when catastrophe hits.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focusing on health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA 22320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.