We are failing Pakistan

The response to Pakistan’s flood crisis pales in comparison to that after Haiti’s earthquake.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

Imagine land the size of Florida being submerged under water for a month, Scotland’s entire population of 5 million being made homeless, and 3.5 million children being threatened with malnutrition as a result.

Imagine millions having to evacuate their homes with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs, only to die from dehydration in make-shift tents.

Then imagine the death and destruction caused by the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

The effects of the floods in Pakistan are projected to be worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined.

Adding insult (and more) to the injury has been the frustratingly sluggish international relief response. Why has it taken Americans and the international community more than three weeks to fully comprehend the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan? You would think that with such a devastating disaster, and in such a volatile region, governments would be tripping over each other to provide aid to the sixth most populous country in the world.

Since Pakistan’s annual monsoon torrents started hitting the country more than four weeks ago, floods have been cancerously spreading throughout the southwest of the country, displacing more people with each day and submerging 20 percent of Pakistan under water.

I think United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon put it best when he lamented, “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this. For two years, we’ve got to look after them, feed them, for two years, to bring them back to where they were. And they will still not be where they were.”

The statistics are at once sobering and mindboggling. Twenty million people have been somehow affected — with almost half of those being children. Cruelly, the floods have left most without fresh drinking water. More than 70,000 children are at serious risk of death, according to the U.N., and hospitals have been overflowing with patients infected with typhoid, dysentery and cholera.

The economic impacts are unimaginable for a country that was already suffering from severe economic woes, political instability and debt.

It is embarrassing that only two thirds of the $460 million in emergency funding appealed for by the U.N. has been met. These are just pledges, which are nonbinding. Pledges do not buy people clean water and sanitary shelters. Also, let’s not forget that only a fraction of the $5.3 billion pledged to Haiti has been sent. It’s more than likely that it’ll stay that way.

I remember when the Haiti earthquake hit, it seemed like everyone was talking about it. Top celebrities organized the Hope for Haiti concert and telethon just 10 days after the quake, a feat we have yet to see be undertaken for Pakistan.

Even cell phone providers jumped on the “save Haiti” bandwagon by launching a campaign with the American Red Cross to allow us to text aid to the country. The campaign raised $32 million within days.

A similar cell phone campaign was launched by the Red Cross for Pakistan, but as of late August, only 0.03 percent of what was raised for Haiti has been generated — not even a comparison.

We are failing Pakistan. Our reluctance to donate demonstrates that all it takes for the wealthy, privileged one percent of the world to become desensitized is a single earthquake. Do we really think we’ve done enough to help those afflicted by hunger and disease? The worst is yet to come in Pakistan, as the monsoons are not over and winter is right around the corner.

Perhaps donor governments will excuse their frugality as a mere result of the financial crisis. But if that were the case, why were governments extraordinarily generous to Haiti when economies were still reeling from the crisis?

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that there is a general perception among most governments and even Americans that Pakistan may not deserve as much assistance as other countries because of the threat of terrorism in the region. After all, we are at war with the region, and the Obama administration has not failed to consistently drop drones in civilian areas of the Pakistan border. It’s mighty contradictory for the United States to be pledging financial support to the same region that it, just two weeks ago, dropped a drone over, killing 20 people.

The so-called war on terror and the fear of lurking terrorists and “insurgents” is clouding our better judgment. Ironically, even the campaign to donate to Pakistan has been framed in terms of U.S. interests in the region. In its first editorial on the floods, The New York Times stated the disaster “is a strategic threat … to American efforts to suppress Al Qaeda and other extremists,” and that we “must not blow this one” by allowing extremists to take advantage of the crisis to “win new adherents to their nihilistic cause.”

Meanwhile, the AFP reported that Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said at a conference that the $150 million pledged by the United States “will provide opportunities for American business as we try to build back better.”

We are forgetting that it’s not about the war on terror or corporate interests, but about human beings, 16,000 of which have already died in the worst flooding Pakistan has experienced in the region’s history since 1929. The Pakistani people are waiting for the international community to get its act together. If we cannot at least reach — if not surpass, like we did for Haiti — the U.N.’s target aid amount, I doubt it would be an exaggeration to say the international community would have failed Pakistan.