As the deadly diseases threaten survivors of Pakistan’s deadliest floods, the global aid response to the Pakistan floods has so far been much less generous than to other recent natural disasters — despite the soaring numbers of people affected and the prospect of more economic ruin in a country key to the fight against Islamist extremists. To make the matters worse, the so-called political leaders, at least a majority of them, remain unmoved by the plight of about 14 million souls they claim to represent, though on dubious credentials. The floods have affected about a quarter of the country, overwhelming an already weak government coping with crushing economic conditions and attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Around 1,500 people have been killed since the torrents began more than two weeks ago.
International community remains unmoved, so is vote-grabbers who only appear in the voting season like frogs who are irritatingly visible in the monsoon season. It is only the philanthropists and NGOs who are helping the needy. A story of an NGO has already appeared in these pages eliciting tremendous response. There was hardly any response to government’s appeal for donations, apparently for lack of trust. Reasons for international apathy include the relatively low death toll of 1,500, the slow onset of the flooding compared with more immediate and dramatic earthquakes or tsunamis, and a global “donor fatigue” — or at least a Pakistan fatigue. Businessweek has reported that triggered by monsoon rains, the floods have torn through the country from its mountainous northwest, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and an estimated 1.7 million acres (nearly 700,000 hectares) of farmland. In southern Pakistan, the River Indus is now more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) wide at some points — 25 times wider than during normal monsoon seasons.
The floods have disrupted the lives of 14 million people — 8 percent of the population. Many are living in muddy camps or overcrowded government buildings, while thousands more are sleeping in the open next to their cows, goats and whatever possessions they managed to drag with them. And the U.N. says more flood surges may be on the way. Late Friday, local TV reported more flooding in towns and villages along main rivers in Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Going by the numbers of people affected, the disaster is worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined, the U.N. says. But international aid for those disasters came at a more rapid pace, aid experts say. Ten days after the Kashmir quake, donors gave or pledged $292 million, according to the aid group Oxfam. The Jan. 12 disaster in Haiti led to pledges nearing $1 billion within the first 10 days.
For Pakistan, the international community gave or pledged $150 million after the flooding began in earnest in late July, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA. U.N. officials on Wednesday launched a formal appeal for $460 million for immediate relief and have said the country will need billions more to rebuild after the floodwaters recede.
OCHA spokesman Nicholas Reader said that of the $310 million still needed, the U.N. received $93 million with an additional $32 million pledged. Pakistan is also receiving bilateral donations, which are not part of the appeal and which the United Nations does not track. The United States has donated the most, at least $70 million, and has sent military helicopters to rescue stranded people and drop of food and water. Washington hopes the assistance will help improve its image in the country — however marginally — as it seeks its support in the battle against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Britain, Pakistan’s former colonial ruler, was the second largest donor, pledging over $32 million. Other major donations included $13 million from Germany, $10 million from Australia, $5 million from Kuwait, $3.5 million from Japan and $3.3 million from Norway. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said humanitarian organizations in Pakistan are working around the clock to deliver lifesaving assistance to at least 6 million people in need, but that far more funding is required to provide help quickly. He said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was planning a trip to Pakistan to inspect the damage.
Comparatively low-key coverage in the international media and a lack of celebrity involvement has also kept the flood disaster off many would-be givers’ radar, said Molly Kinder, a Pakistan aid expert with the Washington-based Center for Global Development. “I haven’t exactly seen Lady Gaga go on Oprah to pledge donations to Pakistan’s flood victims,” she said. The civilian government’s response to the flood has not inspired confidence among many donors. Pakistan’s economy is already dependent on foreign aid and has received billions of dollars since 2001 because of its role in the fight against Islamic militants.