The Christmas tsunami killed tens of thousands of people in twelve countries in the space of only a few minutes. Now, aid groups are harnessing the Internet to raise millions of dollars at an unprecedented pace of their own.
Tens of millions of dollars has been raised online in just three days, aid groups say. "We're stunned by the level of compassion and response. This is an absolutely unprecedented outpouring online," says Tim Ledwith, director of interactive donor communications for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. That organization expected to receive $1.5 million in online donations on Wednesday alone, three times the amount it raised for relief during the entire U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. "We're not gleeful about the numbers," says Ledwith. "We're just so, so grateful."
Molly Elliot, Webmaster for Doctors Without Borders, says her organization has brought in a record-breaking $4 million in online aid since the Sunday disaster. "People are really stepping up to the plate," says Elliot, who watched, horrified, as the site crashed on Tuesday, unable to keep up with the traffic. The problem was streamlined within an hour. "It's exciting to see how wonderful people are," she says.
Other sites are setting their own records. Kintera, a technology provider for nonprofits such as Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and others helped raise $20 million in the past three days. And commercial sites are making their own efforts: Google's home page now has a link that reads "Ways to help with tsunami relief." Amazon.com has dedicated its home page to fundraising for the Red Cross. "We wanted to do something to help, just like our customers do. We've had more than 48,000 donations in 24 hours. You just click, type your amount, and few clicks later you're done," says Amazon's Craig Berman. "This is a boon for relief agencies, because at the end of each day they know exactly how much money they can allocate immediately," says Dr. Harry E. Gruber, CEO of Kintera. "It's all in real time."
Interactive fundraising had its first big success after the September 11 attacks. Donors now view the Web as a way to get cash quickly to victims. California dentist Daniel Tevrizian says he made an online donation to Doctors Without Borders this week. "It was a slam dunk, the quickest way," he says. "In past years I've donated by check to earthquakes, and I never knew if it got there."
Some aid organizations say they'd like donors to be less specific about how their money is used, so that funds can be directed to other humanitarian disasters, including Sudan ."We understand that people want to give for specific tragedies," says Kris Torgeson, with Doctors Without Borders. "But by not restricting the donation we can reach areas that are suffering terribly but not covered by the media spotlight right now, like Darfur."
The Web has assumed other important roles in the East Asia tragedy. Internet enthusiasts in the region have created sites such as the South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Weblog, (tsunamihelp.blogspot.com), which provides information to people hoping to find information about relatives, make donations or provide other assistance. And personal Weblogs from survivors and witnesses are documenting the disaster and relief efforts. Other sites tell would-be volunteers how they can help and advice for everything from how to get out of tsunami-devastated countries to how to fly in and volunteer.