One month after monsoon rains caused flooding in the northern mountains, relief efforts were still in emergency mode. On Sunday, the Indus River, surging at 40 times its normal volume, breached levees near the southern city of Sujawal. Evidence is growing that the river’s path of destruction has stunted, if not annihilated, social and economic systems across Pakistan.
The effects, from increased hunger to obliterated schools, are likely to force Pakistan and the United States – which last fall earmarked billions of dollars in aid to build up Pakistan’s civilian government – to retool their development plans… Unlike the deadly jolt of the 2005 earthquake that previously ranked as Pakistan’s gravest natural disaster, the flooding metastasized like a cancer, submerging an area nearly as large as Florida. With much of the south still underwater, assessing the damage remains guesswork. Where the waters have receded, officials bandy about figures in the sums of millions and billions of dollars.
But there is little doubt that the losses are colossal. The government says 1.2 million houses, 10,000 schools, 35 bridges and 9 percent of the national highway system have been were damaged or destroyed. Even as emergency workers in the northern mountains build temporary bridges, landslides smother more roads. [Link]
But by all accounts, nobody is giving:
The amount of foreign donations given per flood victim is very low compared to other such disasters. The figures for the Haiti earthquake, tsunami, and Kashmir earthquake were $1087.33, $1249.80, and $388.33 respectively. For the Pakistan floods, the world has given only $16.36 per victim. [Link]
p>So the question on everyone’s mind is why? Why were we able to open our wallets when faced with such staggering tragedy in all those other instances but not now?
p>The Atlantic offers four possibilities:
(1) Pakistan lacks Haiti’s network of Western charities. Pakistan, particularly the flooded areas, has a global reputation for being dangerous. It is also, of course, Muslim. As a result, it lacks Haiti’s pre-existing network of Christian humanitarian organizations and missionaries that have been growing in the country for decades. Those Christian missionaries in Haiti, predominantly Americans doing a combination of religious and humanitarian work, were so important because they could use American churches as a vast grassroots network to communicate Haiti’s plight to Americans and especially to raise money. But Pakistan has no such large-scale, long-term presence, which had made it far more difficult to tap into the vast fundraising resource of Christian America.
(2) Pakistan doesn’t look like a friend to many Americans. Although it has nothing to do with the floods, Pakistan has had a spate of recent bad press in America. The Wikileaks document dump in July brought national attention to the long-held concerns of U.S. intelligence officials that factions in Pakistan’s military intelligence service (ISI) may be sponsoring some of the Taliban militants responsible for killing 1,241 Americans. The flood victims, many of whom are children, have nothing to do with the duplicitous practices of the ISI, and extremism in Pakistan could be curbed dramatically by a robust U.S. humanitarian response. However, many Americans are likely wondering why they should voluntarily shed their increasingly scant disposable income to help a country that is far from a robust ally. Even before the Wikileaks story, a Gallup poll of Americans found overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward Pakistan.
(3) Islam is not popular in America right now. Pakistan is one of the world’s largest Muslim states. That puts it at a disadvantage in the U.S., where the recent controversy over the Cordoba Islamic cultural center planned for lower Manhattan has generated alarmingly widespread Islamophobia. Groups have begun protesting mosques and Islamic family centers across the country. Recent polling reports that only 55 percent of Americans call Muslims “loyal Americans,” 32 percent say Muslims should be blocked from running for president, and 28 say they should be forbidden from joining the Supreme Court. An all-time high of 18 percent believe President Obama is Muslim, which is widely seen as an expression of rising hostility towards Muslims. The polling shows Islam to be especially unpopular among U.S. conservatives, many of whom are part of the same Christian humanitarian network that was so active in responding to Haiti.
(4) The floods make for bad TV. As many in the U.S. have pointed out, the flooding in Pakistan has received light and undramatic TV news coverage relative to Haiti and other humanitarian disasters. The New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar described the floods as not being as sufficiently “dramatic, emotional, [or] telegenic” as the earthquakes and tsunamis that so opened American wallets. Others have described the floods as a “slow motion” disaster that cannot be effectively conveyed in a single photograph or piece of video. Just as importantly, reporters do not have the same freedom of mobility Pakistan as they had in Haiti, both because Haiti is so close to the U.S. east coast and because of the danger of traveling in some regions of Pakistan. [Link]
p>I personally believe the reason is a combination of donor fatigue and bad publicity (see #2 above), along with the fact that flooding is a drawn out tragedy that doesn’t make for dramatic TV (see #4). But I think another major reason, not included in the list above, is the fact that many Americans are aware that Pakistan gets a lot of aid from the U.S. already. We are not making the necessary distinction between aid that goes to the government to “combat terrorism” vs. aid that is needed to help the general populace stay healthy and keep from starving during a natural disaster. Whatever the reason, the people on the lowest rung of the luck ladder are left without a lifeline.
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