The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged thousands of coastline villages from Thailand to Somalia this past weekend has prompted an urgent need for relief from the international community. With the death toll at 76,000 and rising quickly, the threat of infectious diseases is increasing rapidly as entire islands go without clean water and medicine.

The Bush Administration initially announced a $15 million aid package in response to the disaster, and upped that to $35 million yesterday in the face of mounting public pressure. Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, got the ball rolling when he criticized the US’s contributions to economically-struggling countries around the world as “stingy” in recent years.

Unfortunately, Egeland’s criticism finds support in the numbers: the New York Times reported this morning that the US is among the least generous nations in the world in proportion to the size of its economy when it comes to providing assistance to poor countries.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2003 contributions by the US represented only 0.14 percent of the US gross national income, making it the smallest donor percentagewise among developed nations. By contrast, Egeland’s native Norway gave 0.92 percent of its gross national income; Denmark, 0.84 percent; the Netherlands, 0.81 percent; Luxembourg, 0.80 percent; and Sweden, 0.70 percent.

The non-partisan group, Americans for Informed Democracy, is calling on US citizens to register their support for the US government to demonstrate far more principled, aggressive and generous leadership in responding to the tsunami disaster than is currently being shown. Click here to sign and send a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and click here to read eyewitness dispatches from BBC correspondents filing from affected areas around the region as relief efforts get underway.

Beyond the actions of the US government, private citizens can also lend a hand. Given the dire state of affairs, it’s hard to imagine a more valuable effort to contribute to at this time. Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam America and UNICEF are three good groups accepting donations for the relief effort. And click here for a larger list of organizations, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Co-written by Patrick Mulvaney.