The upside of Ebola in Dallas

Story highlights

  • CNN's John Sutter says donations to the Ebola crisis have been inadequate
  • He calls on the public and institutional donors to contribute more
  • The United Nations has said it will cost $1 billion to contain the outbreak
There's one possible upside to the saddening news that an Ebola case has been discovered in Dallas: It might catalyze the world to help stop this crisis.
Donations to fight Ebola have been just a "drop in the bucket" of what's needed, and are much smaller than those given for other disasters, Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, told me on Thursday.
The reason?
John D. Sutter
Unlike an earthquake or hurricane, Ebola isn't an "event."
"In a tornado or a volcano, you've got visible examples of what's happening," he said. "And you know your dollar will feed and clothe someone tonight. In an Ebola outbreak, it's been going on for a while, it's complicated, It's hard to find something tangible -- and you don't know when it's going to end. It's a more difficult story."
Difficult, yes.
Slow-moving, sure.
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But that does not mean it's any less important.
That's why I'm hopeful the news that Ebola has come to the United States might persuade donors here to contribute to the many organizations that need help managing this crisis and ensuring that it doesn't spread further. The finding could also lead to better understanding of the disease, of course, and knowledge about how to stop its spread. If the U.S. public has been looking for an "event," or a reason to get more involved, that should be it.
It isn't time to panic. Medical experts say it's unlikely the single Ebola case reported in Dallas will spread -- or that it will lead to an outbreak here.
But this should be a wake-up call.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that, if nothing more is done, from 555,000 to 1.4 million people could become infected with Ebola by January in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone. This should make the world realize that more resources are needed.
The United Nations said in September that it will take $1 billion to contain the Ebola outbreak, but international funding so far has totaled only $388 million, according to a CNNMoney report, which cited data from a United Nations data group. Reuters, meanwhile, says about half of the money the U.N. needs has been raised. A U.N. spokesman told me it's unclear what the total is. But it's clear from these figures -- and from the pleas of the organizations battling this crisis -- that not enough has been done.
For comparison, the 2010 Haiti earthquake raised $1.4 billion from American donors alone, according to a 2011 report from Chronicle of Philanthropy. The year after Hurricane Katrina saw $3.3 billion in donations from Americans.
There have been laudable responses to Ebola. The Gates Foundation, for example, pledged $50 million. The United States has pledged 3,000 troops and $175 million, according to a White House statement issued on September 16.
But the public should get more involved in this and other slow-drip emergencies. It shouldn't take an earthquake or tornado for us to wake up to the human suffering Ebola inflicts. To get a sense of what life is like on the ground in West Africa, watch this video diary from CNN's Nima Elbagir. Or this report from a village in Sierra Leone.
This is a crisis that can be contained, but it takes money.
The longer we wait, the more likely it is to spread.
"The response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind,'' Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said at a September U.N. meeting in Geneva, according to Al Jazeera. "The window of opportunity to contain this outbreak is closing. We need more countries to stand up, we need greater deployment, and we need it now.''
Sandra Murillo, a Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman, however, said in an email that money isn't everything. "The biggest obstacle to getting Ebola under control has not been financial," she said. "It has been an issue of coordination and staffing, and the fact that there are just not enough people."
She said the group prefers donations be "unrestricted," rather than Ebola-specific, "to allow us to allocate our resources most efficiently and to respond where the needs are greatest." The group, she said, is not actively soliciting Ebola-specific donations at this time.
In a recent NPR Planet Money podcast, which is what got me thinking about this topic, the hosts question why there hasn't been a benefit telethon for Ebola -- like there was for Haiti -- or why there aren't popular campaigns that allow people to donate via text message.
Those are both great ideas.
If you're reading this, Beyoncé, please get on it. I'm a fan.
And if you're not Beyoncé, consider making a donation -- to this and to other non-event-based emergencies, like the Syrian refugee crisis.
CNN's Impact Your World group offers a list of reputable donors.