When natural disasters strike at the heart of a society, the world tends to unite to ease the human suffering. In fact, throughout history, governments and private organizations often work in tandem by donating money, personnel, and resources to mitigate the damage. The 2004 tsunami that resulted in the deaths of some 250,000 people rallied a world traditionally fractured by religious, ethnic and political differences, all for the sake of compassion. Arabs, Jews, Iranians, Americans, Brazilians, Turks, Chinese, and Indians poured in hundreds of millions of dollars for lifesaving operations. Food, makeshift tents and help were all given to those whose lives were damaged indirectly, as well as to those who lost their businesses, homes, livelihoods, and entire families. Celebrities and musicians put on performances and benefits for the victims, and national governments actually found themselves competing with one another for the title of “top donor.”
When all was said and done, the humanitarian response in its entirely was nothing short of remarkable. 1.2 million children were vaccinated to prevent disease, UNICEF helped rebuild 107 schools, 59 health clinics, and trained a total of 56,000 health specialists. A tremendous response, given the millions who were left homeless or stranded.
This is only one example of the world casting aside its differences and uniting under the banner of humanity. Just six months ago, countries from every corner of the globe were quick to respond to the earthquakes that devastated Haiti’s already poor infrastructure. American citizens donated approximately $31 million simply through their Blackberrys and iPhones. International institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank donated millions more, giving Haitians a sign of hope in an otherwise terrible situation. Again, the world heeded the call of compassion.
So why, after three weeks of the worst flooding in Pakistani history, is the world so silent on this latest natural catastrophe?
The United Nations has estimated that over four million Pakistanis have been displaced, another eight million are in need of emergency assistance (food, clothing, shelter, drinking water), and a total of twenty million have been affected in one way or the other. Close to one third of Pakistan’s land mass has been flooded or destroyed; 1.6 million acres of cropland ruined; and key infrastructure like bridges and roads are inaccessible. The Pakistani population in the hardest hit areas is getting impatient, wondering why they are not seeing aid and trying to figure out why their own government is slow in delivering supplies.
To make matters worse, the Taliban and other Islamic extremists in Pakistan have been quite willing to exploit the situation to their advantage. In some cases, Islamic charities are beating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to the punch, dishing out meals in a quicker and more efficient manner. The situation is getting so out of hand, says Senator John Kerry, that Pakistan is inching ever closer to full on violence if the United States and its allies do not pick up the pace.
Indeed, the world is starting to get the message. Saudi Arabia recently announced that it would be donating $107 million to various humanitarian organizations on the ground inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. After a visit to the frontline, Senator Kerry announced that Washington would be increasing its own contributions by another $150 million. But even with this good news, emerging powers like Brazil, Russia, India, and China (informally known as the BRIC) have not fulfilled their “rising power” status. China has had double digit economic growth for the past three decades, yet the Chinese leadership has given a frugal $2 million to relief organizations.
Which again brings us to the crucial question that’s on everyone’s mind: Why are people not stepping up and donating to Pakistan, as millions of people worldwide did to Sri Lanka and Haiti a few years ago?
Some have suggested that perhaps the world is biased toward Muslims, so therefore relief donations are at a minimum. Others have claimed that Western countries are simply sick and tired of giving money to overseas ventures when their own economies are still losing jobs and struggling to maintain growth rates (although this is hard to belief. Western economies were in pretty bad shape a few months ago but that didn’t hamper aid to Haiti in any significant way). Many analysts cite America’s skepticism of the corrupt Pakistani government as a reason. On this very channel, Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani journalist and a former political economy advisor to the UN, seems to think that negative stereotypes from Western media may have something to do with it as well.
Yet all of these reasons are still unacceptable, because each justification seems to indicate that the world is punishing innocent Pakistani civilians for the actions of its government. This form of punishment is all the more disturbing when considering the general hostility that ordinary Pakistanis already possess toward their own civilian leaders. Making people suffer for the crimes and ineptitudes of their politicians isn’t exactly kosher, nor should it be a rationale for withholding aid that could serve millions of people.
The United States have vastly outstripped other donors so far. But America could be doing a lot more by lobbying allies and making Washington’s demands clear. Stabilizing Pakistan after a natural or man made disaster is an urgent national security priority for the United States. Peace and stability in Pakistan is in many ways a precedent for peace and security for the entire world community.
As a leader of that world community, President Barack Obama must work the phones and solicit all of the contributions he can get. Anything short of this effort would be cataclysmic for America’s battle against an unforgiving jihadist ideology, and a terrible crime to the entire nation of Pakistan.