The wave of support that came in the wake of the Asian Tsunami of December 2004 revealed, once again, humans’ capacity for generosity. A total of 7 billion US dollars was raised, financing the largest humanitarian operation in history. Hundreds of organizations distributed aid money which had come from all four corners of the globe.
The first international relief agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was founded in 1863. The Red Cross provides assistance to victims and prisoners of war, and is underpinned by a statute drawn up by the Geneva Convention. The majority of organizations are non-governmental (NGO) and are not just active in emergency situations: they operate in a variety of fields including the environment, reconstruction projects, education, development aid, and human rights. According to the United Nations, there are 6,000 international NGOs and five million NGOs worldwide, some of which receive extensive international support: Amnesty International counts 2.2 million members, while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has 4.7 million. There is such a wide range of NGOs nowadays that there is a cause to suit every interest.
NGOs are increasingly large, numerous, and well-organized, and are playing a growing role in politics. They also participate in the drawing up of international legal conventions: as in the case of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and 1972, Amnesty International and the Convention Against Torture, and Survival International who work for the rights of tribal peoples.
Working alongside nations, sometimes in areas that have been overlooked for lack of money or other resources, NGOs propose alternative organizational models and advocate other values over power and profit. By doing this they offer everyone the opportunity to help effect social change and make an impact on their town, region, or the world, something that can give them a sense of pride and satisfaction.