Why this is no time for compassion fatigue

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The Independent Online

This will be remembered as the year in which nature made clear its indifference to the fate of mankind. First came the tsunami, which wiped out 225,000 lives on Boxing Day morning. In Niger, the West was slow to wake up to the famine engulfing that African country. Then came Hurricane Katrina, which transformed a vibrant American city into a fetid, uninhabitable swamp. Now comes the Kashmir earthquake.

On Saturday morning, a quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale hit a mountainous region where Pakistan, India and Afghanistan meet. Men and women were crushed in their homes and workplaces as their roofs fell in. Children were killed as their schools collapsed around them. Whole villages were reduced to rubble in moments.

The death toll has been estimated at up to 40,000. Up to half of those who have died are children. There is talk of a whole generation being wiped out.

This was a disaster that took place half a world away from Britain, but its effects have been felt close to home. Thousands of British subjects have family ties in the region. With communications out, many do not know whether their relatives are alive.

We have witnessed heart-rending images of people being pulled from their destroyed homes. Perhaps most disturbing have been the personal testimonies: the reports of children's voices calling out from the rubble; the pitiful accounts of people scrabbling around the ruins of their homes to free relatives, calling in vain for aid.

A vast number of children have been orphaned. Up to 4 million people are homeless. We must also recognise that when disasters afflict less affluent countries, their governments lack the resources to respond as effectively as they might. The world must respond to the appeal of the United Nations, which has called for $272m (£156m) in aid, and pool its resources to help.

And we, as prosperous citizens of the Western world, have a responsibility to donate too. That is why The Independent is launching an appeal today on behalf of the victims, through the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella body bringing together a dozen of Britain's best-known charities, including Oxfam and Save the Children.

This is an immediate and positive way for readers to help. Hundreds of thousands are in desperate need of food, shelter, clothing, sanitation and medicine. Unless the survivors receive them speedily, disease will swell the death toll. The aid agencies need funds to prevent this happening, and to rebuild lives.

An over-used phrase this year has been "compassion fatigue". Some have suggested the British public's willingness to donate to emergency relief funds is dwindling. We are confident that this is not the case. You have shown that your willingness to give is dictated not by personal whim but by the scale of the emergency. You showed this during our Darfur appeal last summer. You showed it during the Christmas appeal for Africa, and in the tsunami appeal. We hope you will summon up that same spirit of compassion once more, and use our coupon to donate.