Exploring the aid gap in Pakistan

Western donors seem to care little about the natural disaster of the decade

Pakistan has fallen victim to the worst natural disaster of the decade. The United Nations has classified it as worse than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake,and the 2010 Haitian earthquake combined.

Seventeen million acres of farmland have been flooded, destroying $1 billion of agricultural output. Disease is running rampant among victims of the flooding, thousands of lives have been lost and tens of thousands of people are now internally displaced. 

The Pakistani government’s response to this crisis has been widely criticized in the media as both inadequate and marred with corruption. A large focus of coverage about the disaster has questioned Pakistan’s ability to handle the crisis, as though it was primarily a logistics problem that caused the unprecedented destruction and is hindering its recovery. 

What Western media has hardly covered is the issue of how weak the international community’s response has been, as well as addressing the question of why this is so.

Let’s start with nations that have interests in Pakistan’s well-being, due to its military importance with regards to the war in Afghanistan.

The United States is the wealthiest and most involved foreign nation in Pakistan. So far, they have pledged $76 million in aid so far, a pittance compared to the $1 billion they spent on the 2004 Asian tsunami and the $100 billion they spend on the Afghan war each year.

Canada announced a pathetic $2 million in July, just an eleventh of the amount pledged by the Taliban alone if Pakistan agreed to refuse aid from Christians and Jews. Due in part by shaming from international NGOs, Canada has increased its aid pledge to $33 million. 

The European Union seems to be concerned as it has donated €70 million. This is likely due in part to Europe’s growing distaste of refugees, especially among its rising Muslim population. The EU probably wants potential refugees to remain in Pakistan.

The lack of concern is replicated at the non-state level. In the countries mentioned, individual donations for aid relief in Pakistan have been less than remarkable. While a U.S. Red Cross mobile campaign generated $31 million for Haiti, only $10,000 has been raised for Pakistan.

The amount of funding donated per person affected by the 2004 tsunami was $1249.80, while for Pakistan it is $16.36. That is a 76-fold difference – a very disturbing discrepancy.

Westerners seem to care about humanitarian crises once they become extreme, but that has not been the case with Pakistan. A 2008 Gallup poll found that among Americans, only Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority, Iran and North Korea were less liked than Pakistan.

Haiti received a large international response after the earthquake there last winter. Aid was enormous even though a lot of it was, and continues to be, funneled away due to corruption. Though it was known that Haiti, both with and without government, was a haven for corruption, donors seemed not to care. Yet, in Pakistan corruption is a focus.

It would be wrong to say that this is all because “the West doesn’t like Muslims” or some other singular argument. Sure, widespread suspicion of Islamic countries plays a part, but in no way can it explain such an enormous gap in aid.

The answer probably lies in the enigmatic way mainstream media portrays Pakistan: as a nation that can afford nuclear weapons, but needs international aid; as a strong American ally that also harbours terrorists; and as a democracy that is marred with corruption.

Whatever the answer is, the solution lies in our realizing that people in dire situations deserve aid irrespective of the government to which they are subordinated. Pakistanis are no different.

Matt Austman is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)

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