EDITORIAL: Why do people not want to give to Iraq appeal?

Lucy Maggs

Fundraising appeals for humanitarian crises are always expected to provoke a strong response from the public. Emotive images of drought and disaster have in the past inspired enormous generosity. But the Red Cross has said that it is disappointed in the response to the appeal it ran in national newspapers last week. The charity was only trying to raise £40,000, but the results still weren't up to expectations.

The charity has blamed itself to an extent. It said the message was too general, referring to a disaster that hadn't yet happened and which failed to engage donors.

The charity hasn't been helped by the lack of strong imagery from Iraq in the media. The refugee camps are lying empty, Iraqis are either choosing not to leave their homes yet, or are being prevented from doing so, as has been the case in Basra. The news has been pretty much dominated by pictures of spectacular bombing campaigns, tanks and military camps. There have been a few shots recently of people scrabbling for aid and some of those wounded in the bombing but the images do not bring home the impression of the looming humanitarian disaster.

The Red Cross has decided to adapt its fundraising campaign to have more of an emotional impact and try to engage the public.

But there is also an argument that recent news reports of the US and British military providing humanitarian aid have left the public with the impression that it is being paid for out of their taxes, like the war itself. One of the strongest recent images in the media has been of humanitarian workers distributing aid from an unmarked truck supervised by the military.

It will be interesting to see whether a change in fundraising tactics does pick up the Red Cross' fundraising campaign, or if the reason behind the public's failure to respond runs deeper.

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