(NOTE: See the follow-up to this post below.)
The death toll from the disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami has passed 29,000 and is expected to climb.
The U.S. pledged to take a major relief role, providing $15 million in aid for starters, with $400,000 already disbursed.
In response, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland slammed the U.S. as "stingy" and said America should raise taxes on its citizens so it would have more funds to give.
Really, I'm not making that up.
Of course, lower taxes allow the American people to make their own charitable contributions with their own money, a point lost on Mr. Egeland. Americans regularly give at least 2% of GDP annually to charity, amounting to over $240 billion in 2003. That's many, many times more than the foreign aid budget of any nation on earth. (America's own 2003 Official Developmental Assistance budget -- the world's biggest -- was only $16 billion.)
The entire European Union has pledged only 3 million euros ($4 million) so far, although it is suggesting that more will be on the way. Louis Michel, European Commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid, said that the E.U. "is able to mobilize up to 30 million [euros] promptly through its emergency procedures."
Am I being too cynical to think that there might be a difference between "able to mobilize", and "actually giving"?
Meanwhile, gingerly easing toward the barn door after the horses have run off, southern Asian governments are thinking about whether they should finally get around to having a tsunami warning system.
My commenters have pointed out that Egeland's initial comments, while reeking of ingratitude and ignorance of economics, were directed more generally at rich western nations including America, as opposed to singling America out for stinginess.
(It's just another reminder of the power of the blogosphere -- as well as the value of having commenters who don't automatically agree with everything you say.)
Egeland has also since said that his initial comments were "misinterpreted":
I have been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that my belief that rich countries in general can be more generous. This has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency. It is still early, and the aid so far has been positive. The international aid has arrived as promised from the US, Europe, and countries in the region have also been very generous.Also, the death toll is closing in on 60,000, which it may even have passed as I write this. And Secretary of State Powell stated that the U.S. will be sending at least another $20 million in aid on top of the initial $15 million.