A Flood of Callousness
The Beeb is reporting that more than 20 million residents in Pakistan have been forced out of their homes due to the widespread flooding that has left more than one-third of the country under water and an estimated 2,000 people drowned.
Cholera and other water-borne illnesses are widespread, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that more than 200,000 people are suffering from acute diarrhea and about that many people also experiencing acute respiratory problems. Another 3.5 million children are at risk of water-borne illnesses, according to the United Nations. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a quarter million farm animals have been killed to date in the flooding and 700,000 hectares of farmland are destroyed. The Pakistani government has been unable to respond to the crisis, with more than 6 million citizens living in the open countryside with no potable water or food.
The weather forecast for the coming weeks is more rain during the monsoon season.
Yet there has been a strange silence in the United States about this crisis – relegated to perhaps a scrolling footnote during stories demonizing the man who wants to build a Muslim YMCA in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory two blocks from the World Trade Center buildings, or stories analyzing the STD and arrest status of the cast members of Jersey Shore.*
And the dollars that poured forth after the earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in south Asia are not coming forth to help the people of Pakistan.
One activist with Amnesty International describes the relative silence as “a crisis of empathy” by Westerners. Rafia Zakaria writes:
“Catastrophe of this magnitude visited upon a country already flailing under the weight of terrorist attacks and poor governance is an indescribable tragedy. But the dimensions of Pakistan’s calamity have been exacerbated not simply by the vagaries of nature but by the inability of the world to join the effort to save Pakistan’s submerged millions.
Shockingly the cavalcade of bereft images, emaciated men clutching driftwood, women grasping half naked babies and villages and towns inundated in the ubiquitous murky brown have all failed to arouse the world’s sympathy. While millions around the globe opened their coffers for the victims of the Asian Tsunami and the Haitian earthquake, few have done so for Pakistan. Hollywood stars, usually quick to rally around victims of humanitarian catastrophe have been eerily silent in coming to the aid of millions of Pakistan’s hapless flood victims.
The U.S response, while widely publicized, has also been paltry relative to the magnitude of the catastrophe with only a few hundred million pledged; a far cry from the over one billion the United States spends on fighting the war on terror in Pakistan. To date, only nineteen helicopters and two C-130s of the many hundreds stationed mere miles away from affected areas were actually being utilized for humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. While news agencies decried how the floods may provide opportunities for militants to regroup, these fears have not led to any decisions that would divert significant military assets to humanitarian use in the region.
Unless ordinary people around the world donate to come to the aid of the millions waiting for help, Pakistanis will bear the burden of believing that in their gravest hour of need they have been forgotten and ignored.”
The anger against the US is growing and palpable in Pakistan. One member of Parliament told a BBC correspondent, “The US is spending $5 billion a month in Afghanistan. That puts in context what they are giving to us.”
It’s not just the US government. Donations to charitable groups are falling far short.
The United Nations’ leaders are begging for donations. The Red Cross and Oxfam are not receiving any where near the amount of money needed to bring food and water and supplies to the 20 million displaced persons. According to Oxfam officials, the amount of funding raised so far works out to $3 per flood-affected person, whereas the commitment after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake was $70 per person and $495 per person after the Haiti earthquake.
Why doesn’t the world care about Pakistanis?
While some have theorized that the lack of attention or donations is due to “compassion fatigue” or tighter budgets, I can’t help but wonder if the constant demonization of Muslims in the mainstream media, as best evidenced by the hysteria over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” and the general ignorance of Americans about the religion and its followers (hint to 20% of Americans – Barack Obama is not Muslim) has led to a hardened heart to the suffering of the people of Pakistan. One commentator has answered that question with “Because they live in Pakistan.”
But the suffering Pakistani children and families are not terrorists, they are human beings who are slowly dying. The groups affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however, are among the few who are getting to the suffering people with food, water, and medicine.
Should we be bombing Pakistani citizens with drone bombs or with USAID care packages?
If you’re interested in making a donation to a relief organization working in Pakistan, the New York Times has compiled a list of charities.
* Oh, and speaking of Jersey Shore, I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to learn that the cast of the show received a charitable donation of a truckload of condoms, vodka, and suntan lotion to get them through the rest of summer.