Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pitching in for Pakistan

The floods in Pakistan have rendered a reported 20 million homeless, destroyed an estimated 1.7 million acres of crops leading to the threat of famine, and given rise to an epidemic of diseases such as cholera, dengue, and malaria. Yet like the water itself, the crisis seems to have snuck up on the international community.
The Pakistan Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan, prepared immediately after the flood, requested $459 million primarily for food, water, sanitation and hygiene, health, shelter and other non-food items. The Financial Tracking Service (FTS) reports that $274 million has been raised, thus reaching a coverage of 59.6%. Despite an outcry that the international community is leaving Pakistan in the lurch, this is actually a fairly high number. The FTS also reports that other disasters this year, such as the civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan or tropical storm that hit Guatemala, have only been covered to the tune of 36% and 33% respectively. But there's no denying that the international community seems less concerned with Pakistan than it was with say, Haiti. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that while twenty-two U.S. aid groups have raised a total of $9.9-million for Pakistan, within two-and-a-half weeks of the earthquake, 40 aid groups had brought in a total of $560-million for Haiti. (photo credit, above).
Why? Well, in the UK it is being blamed on persistent negative images of Pakistan in the media and elsewhere. In India, the history of poor neighborly behavior has led to India's refusal to provide aid. And in the U.S., the low death toll, "summer vacation doldrums," and donor fatigue after the Haiti disaster are thought to contribute to the lack of interest in the crisis.
But the stakes are high. As an editorial in the New York Times last week put it:
The world, especially the United States, must not blow this one.
The editorial reminds us that Pakistan is armed with nuclear weapons, after all, and its destabilization could spell disaster. Moreover, the United States has put an awful lot of effort into suppressing Al Qaeda in the region, particularly along the border with Afghanistan. That work is easily undermined when radical Islamic charities are able to provide shelter and food ahead of the authorities or foreign aid organizations. The Pakistani Taliban has inserted itself, urging the Pakistani government not to accept aid at all, citing a need to maintain sovereignty and independence. The strategic implications (read: politics) of it all are hard to avoid. (photo credit, above left; photo credit below right)
While the rhetoric that this is a "battle for hearts and minds" strikes me as overly dramatic, maintaining peace and security in Pakistan through the crisis is an unquestionable must. And to the extent that it is a battle for hearts and minds, an outpouring of support from the international community ought to do the trick. Pakistan is facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Angelina Jolie gets it. She recently donated $100,000 of her personal funds to help. You can too. But don't worry, the minimum amount is only $15.


Judith Weingarten said...

There is perhaps a feeling that the rich Arab states should lead on this one -- and that's not happening. Saudi Arabia has so far donated just 3.1% of the total (cf.: USA 31%, Britain 11% -- and that 3.1% is less than what was given each by Australia, Canada, and Japan). No mention of Gulf States or indeed any other Muslim nation in the whole list, which doesn't play well internationally:

Judith Weingarten said...

Better late than never. This story was posted today on al-jazeera (online English edition):
Muslim countries and organisations have pledged nearly $1bn in cash and supplies to relief efforts for flood victims in Pakistan, the head of a group of Islamic states has said.
Special Coverage

"They [Muslim countries and organisations] have shown that they are one of the largest contributors of assistance both in kind and cash," Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said in Islamabad on Sunday.

The aid pledges come from OIC institutions and telethons held in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, he said.

Ihsanoglu did not provide a breakdown of the pledges or say how much of the money would go to the Pakistani government versus non-governmental organisations.

No further details were given.