A woman and her daughter were inside the government-run eye clinic in Battgram, Pakistan, when the ground suddenly began to shake. Running outside to safety, the mother turned and urged her girl to hurry. But it was too late. Before the child could escape, the building collapsed. The clinic is now just a heap of corrugated metal and concrete, in which the girl's lifeless body is entombed.

There are countless stories like this in the heavily Muslim Kashmir region of Pakistan, where more than 73,000 people perished and 100,000 were injured when an earthquake struck on October 8. Tens of thousands of more lives are at risk, and at least 3 million people have been made homeless.

Yet after a brief burst of coverage, the media have moved on to other topics. Many American Christians apparently have, too. "Some people probably are becoming numb to these tragedies," Richard Stearns of World Vision told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "What we call 'compassion fatigue' may be setting in."

The late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is reported to have said, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." Of course, a little emotional anesthesia right now may be understandable, given the extraordinary natural disasters the world has faced. Starting with the Florida hurricanes in 2004, to the devastating Asian tsunami a year ago and hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma last fall, Christians have given repeatedly, often putting overmatched government bureaucracies to shame.

Now, however, Christian workers in far-away Pakistan report that giving for earthquake relief is inadequate. Perhaps 80 villages in hard-to-reach Kaghan Valley have yet to see an aid worker, and the tent shelters and hospitals hastily set up in other areas provide the homeless with scant protection during the onset of winter.

"The [nongovernmental organizations] are facing significant funding crises," workers reported in a dispatch. "Entire villages and economies have collapsed, and it seems the West is already bored with it all."

Five weeks after the quake, just 30 percent of the $550 million requested by the United Nations for emergency relief had been pledged. But in Islamabad, representatives of 75 nations and agencies pledged to provide $5.8 billion in loans, cash, and materials for long-term reconstruction. The United States, facing $200 billion in rebuilding costs along the Gulf Coast, tripled its Pakistan quake commitment to $510 million, but multilateral agencies and Saudi Arabia proved to have deeper pockets for this crisis.

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Yes, it's tough to keep giving in response to a succession of unfathomable—and seemingly insolvable—human tragedies.

The excuses to do nothing during this latest crisis keep coming: The needs are too big. We've used up our tithe budget for the year. We've heard about so much corruption and waste. The Muslims will take the money and then persecute us.

There is a grain of truth in these rationales—sometimes more than a grain—but the needs remain. And so, as Paul put it, we must not become weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9). At the same time, we need to think creatively to overcome our propensity toward compassion fatigue in the face of unrelenting human misery.

Fresh Approaches

One approach is simply to budget for disaster. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warns that the risk of natural disasters worldwide is rising due to growing populations, increasing urbanization, inadequate infrastructure, and poverty. Our personal and church philanthropy should reflect that grim reality, with money regularly set aside for emergency relief. We need to plan our giving, so that we are not tapped out when the next earthquake or tsunami hits.

Our disaster budgets should acknowledge the fact that the United States represents less than 5 percent of the earth's population. We also need to be generous to the other 95 percent. But too often, we give to those who already have the most. For example, while $2 billion has been raised for hurricane relief and recovery in the United States, American relief agencies report receiving just $30 million in the first five weeks after the Pakistan earthquake. Yes, charity may begin at home. But for globally minded Christians, it shouldn't stay there.

Another approach is to move from mind-numbing disaster relief to hope-inducing disaster reduction. UNESCO and other agencies know that while we can't stop an oncoming hurricane, we can lessen its destructiveness. Most of the estimated 2,000 deaths in Mexico and Central America last fall from Hurricane Stan (a weak storm) came, tragically, when poorly constructed houses and villages simply washed away. Stan's devastation was entirely unnecessary.

In the Kaghan Valley, about six miles from the epicenter of Pakistan's quake, every building but one collapsed—the Christian hospital. Why? In the words of a Christian: "Good construction."

So many people around the world need not only our gospel, but also our science and engineering. Let's bury our compassion fatigue and start meeting their needs in Christ's name.

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Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today's Deann Alford covered the Pakistan earthquake.

World Relief has more information about its work in Pakistan as well as ways to donate.

Shelter Now has more information about its work in Pakistan and ways to give to its work in the region.

The BBC has more articles on the quake and its aftermath than you could read in an afternoon.

Yahoo's full coverage includes the most recent news on the story.

More CT coverage of Katrina relief and the south Asian tsunami is collected on our site.

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