Opinion: Hot issue - Should charities in the UK raise funds for the US?

Last week, the British Red Cross reversed its decision not to set up an appeal to help fund the relief effort in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Salvation Army and World Vision have also pledged support.

NO - DAVID THOMPSON, consultant on environmental and public policy, Canada

I give to many charities, but because there are so many causes I often struggle to prioritise my giving. Not so in the case of Hurricane Katrina - I will give nothing to the relief effort, and UK charities should do the same.

This is not because I fail to see the suffering of the victims, but because Katrina relief is a low priority compared with countless other situations of need. The US is the wealthiest country on earth. Its current government spends almost half a trillion dollars per year on its military and maintains military bases in more than 100 countries. It is fully capable of finding relief funds without the help of the UK.

In comparison, the African countries that frequently suffer famines and the Asian countries devastated by the tsunami have nowhere near the ability to deal with the plight of their citizens.

Katrina's victims are disproportionately black and impoverished and this is why they are disempowered within the US political system. This is why the authorities have been so slow to provide aid - though not martial law.

'Natural' disasters disproportionately affect the poor. Although I won't give to the US relief effort, I would gladly give to a charity that effectively addresses the underlying political disempowerment.

YES - TANYA STEELE, head of supporter relations, Save the Children

We work for any child in the UK or around the world who is suffering from poverty, disease, injustice or violence. Charities should not discriminate against someone in need because of the country in which they are born or because of the political climate in that country.

Save the Children UK is accepting donations from its supporters for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which will be passed on to Save the Children US. Save the Children US, part of the Save the Children Alliance, has launched an appeal in response to the hurricane. Its response will focus on helping children forced to leave their homes and communities to adjust to their temporary living conditions. It will be working in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

NO - LOUISE RICHARDS, chief executive, War On Want

This is a terrible disaster and, as in so many disaster zones, it's the poor that have suffered the most. As with many disasters, however, there is an element of governmental mismanagement that meant the impact was worse than it should have been.

Aid must be used effectively, and the global 'aid pot' must be used for those who really need it. The US is the richest and most developed country in the world, but its government chooses to spend millions in Iraq. It spends 30 times more on its military than on its overseas aid programme.

More than 75 per cent of US aid has to be spent on US companies, so can we expect the same treatment for donor countries in this case? Maybe donor countries such as Afghanistan and Venezuela should demand that, as a condition of aid, the US must implement free and fair elections.

There are countries throughout the developing world that desperately need aid money without having the luxury of immensely wealthy governments.

Charities should concentrate on fundraising for those countries that need it most.

YES - MAJOR BILL COCHRANE, secretary for communications, Salvation Army

But only when very specific circumstances require it. The Salvation Army has a clear policy that we do not appeal unless requested to do so by our colleagues in the country affected, and only in emergencies. This is why we have not launched a UK appeal for Hurricane Katrina, and nor did we after the 11 September attack. The US public and corporations have been extremely generous, and a huge US telethon took place on Friday to raise funds for charities, including the Salvation Army.

Naturally, our donors here wish to support any Salvation Army relief effort and we have been channelling these donations through to the US.

We cannot say that UK charities should never fundraise for the US, because we have already seen some unprecedented disasters. If a request came for an appeal we would want, as a Christian organisation, to respond to the need.

The Salvation Army operates in 109 countries and the extent of our work differs from country to country, so the amount of support required from the UK varies. We fundraise for dozens of international projects and raise millions for international disasters, including tsunami-hit countries, where our work continues.

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