On 29 July floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains in north west Pakistan caused rivers to burst their banks and destroyed entire villages. The UN described the monsoon floods as the worst in living memory, while Pakistani authorities put the death toll at over 800.
On 4 August the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal to help people hit by the flooding. By 6 August the UN said that at least 1,600 have been killed and 14 million people affected. (1)
Although one of worst humanitarian crises of recent years, larger scale than the 2004 tsunami or Haitian earthquake, analysis of aid given to the Pakistan flood appeals indicated that less had been donated over the first 20 days after disaster first struck than after the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, or the 2005 earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir. On day sixteen after the tsunami, more than $1.4bn had been committed, whereas in the same time, only $200m had been pledged to Pakistan.
On 16 August the United Nations, in an emergency session, challenged the international community to increase and deliver on its aid pledges to Pakistan. According to the UN at this point, only half of the $460m needed for initial relief efforts has been raised. (2)
Commentators have a suggested that one of the reasons for the slow response has been the nature of the disaster itself. Relative to the Tsunami and Haiti, there has been a relatively low death rate (1600) and though the flooding has affected and displaced many more people, the ‘shock’ factor has not been as great. This may have meant the perception of the seriousness of the floods has not been appreciated. Additionally, President Asif Ali Zardari’s ill-advised visit to Europe before he had visited the flood-affected areas incensed many Pakistanis and diluted the urgency of the aid message.
The shadow of terrorism permeated discussion of the floods. On Radio 4, the Pakistani diplomat Abdullah Hussain Haroon blamed David Cameron’s controversial comments about the country exporting terror:
“Pakistan has suffered because of what Mr Cameron has said, because the British people will listen to their Prime Minister.”
Several comment pieces, ostensibly urging people to give generously, did so on the grounds that donating will somehow prevent a suicide attack in Britain. (3)
While the slow response has been associated partly with the reasons above, its worth having a look back to 2005, when Pakistan suffered a large earthquake in Kashmir. Though the international community rallied to support the country, ‘their initial response to the disaster was condemned as slow-moving and financially inadequate’. (4)
This would suggest that Pakistan’s image abroad, associated with corruption and terrorism since the ‘9/11’ attack in America, has significantly affected the international community’s enthusiasm to support the country and its people during a time of need.
Atanu Dey, (an economist with a background) additionally remarked that since money is fungible (exchangeable), giving money to the Pakistani government for flood relief is equivalent to giving money to that government to fund cross-border terrorism or build nuclear weapons. Moreover, another argument goes, since the wishes of the Pakistani people are weakly expressed in their government’s policies, changing hearts and minds won’t make the military establishment stop terrorism directed against India. (5)
While the international politics of terrorism and the realities of aid disaster relief sit side by side, the people on ground suffer the consequences.
Written by: Deyika Nzeribe