Osama Bin Javaid's Blog

Sluggish help for Pakistan

Pakistan is facing its worst natural disaster. Albeit prone to calamities and deaths the country has never seen devastation on such a scale. Unlike Tsunamis and earthquakes, floods do not create immediate headlines as the death toll is relatively slow to mount. To date 1500 people have died but the significant number is of the people affected, almost 20 million. An affected population higher than the all the recent disasters combined – including the Tsunami, Haitian Earthquake, Chilean Earthquake and Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake.

To give you a perspective 20 million is a third of UK’s population, almost half of Argentina’s population or nearly equal to New York’s inhabitants. But still as we saw the world rushing to rescue Tsunami victims, digging deep in their pockets for various earthquakes but the response to the floods in Pakistan is on the contrary. Donors pledged nearly $300 million after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, pledges of up to $1 billion were seen in the early days after the earthquake in Haiti. In the first few weeks the UN has only received $90 million or so in response to a $460 million appeal. So what has changed between then and now?

To begin with, the country’s economy has become increasingly dependent on foreign aid because of its role in the fight against terror. Getting reactions from various people inside and out of Pakistan including expatriates, a number of reasons for the sluggish international response come to light including a relatively low death toll, the slow pace of the floods as compared to the dramatic events in Tsunamis and earthquakes and a “global donor fatigue”. When you speak to people inside Pakistan they blame the government for being late to respond. Citing poor governance and bad crisis management, the government has been chided for not gearing up itself or the citizens to be able to come to the help of flood victims. Apart from the armed forces, no government agency has been able to set its mark. Although with multiple takeovers of civil administrations, the armed forces are the oldest running institution with consistent work in the country’s history.

Numerous inefficiencies and lack of coordination between agencies has also been a cause of concern but there is a clear lack of trust. People do not trust the government and its agencies. Deposits in the prime minister’s fund amount to Rs 55 million which is less than a quarter of funds collected and spent by NGOs and individuals. A leading philanthropist and financial executive says it could be one of many reasons that the world isn’t responding to Pakistan’s woes. This is the 5th year running that pakistan has been out asking for funds. 2005 and 2006 saw appeals for earthquake relief, 2007 to 2009 because of the war on terror & economic collapse and now for flood relief. There is also a perception that the rich and those in power are not doing their share so why should the foriegners pick up their burden and then there is the lack of trust that the money will be utilized honestly and efficiently. Corruption and lack of transparency are the main reasons Pakistanis themselves are trying to focus support on individual efforts rather than pooling resources with the authorities. The PPP in power and the PML-N in opposition have pledged to constitute an independent commission to oversee the funds and their disbursement. A welcome move which will improve public distrust.

The international recognition of the floods is insufficient so far. An irate journalist even went on to say that tell them Jamatud Dawa and Taliban are doing a good job, they might react and help Pakistan. Having said that there is very limited response from fellow muslim countries as well. Apart from the $5 million from Kuwait/Turkey and a few aid planes from KSA no real help has arrived. Although a number of appeals have been launched but no pledges have come from strong bodies like the OIC and other muslim donors.

But donor fatigue is the term being brandished about the most. The fatigue may be linked with the overall economic recessions worldwide and global perceptions of supporting militancy despite Pakistan’s hard work for the war against terror. Even if you look at the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase in war struck Malakand, there were tall claims from the Friends of Democratic Pakistan but the help is yet to arrive. The Pakistani government itself shares the blame for being slow to acknowledge the magnitude of this calamity as even basic comparison with other major disasters and the official estimates of victims of floods are coming too little and too late.

Toned-down international coverage is also not helping to raise awareness across the globe to drum up support for the victims of Pakistan’s worst ever disaster. Unlike the Tsunami its not christmas time and most budgets have been or are being spent on holidays.

Pakistan already faces an insurgency and a refugee crisis. Given that the authorities need to hold drills and inform people of what to do in case of a major crisis, this is too much for any government to grapple with. With warnings of more surges and a heavier monsoon spell, the worst isn’t over and more agony is yet to come. Pakistan’s huge significance and the sacrifices for the international community, the world must DO MORE and do it NOW.