8.18.2010

Pakistan Update

Credit: Mk Chaudhry/European Pressphoto Agency (found via NY Times)
Life in Pakistan is getting no easier for those living in the region affected by severe flooding that is the worst in 80 years. In fact, the situation is getting worse as the threat of disease is high and aid groups still struggle to reach those most in need of assistance. Pakistan's Prime Minister has announced that 20 million have been displaced from these floods (which is 1/9 of the total population) and now millions are without food, water, shelter and sanitation.

Disease: With aid coming in very slowly to Pakistan, the threat of disease is becoming a very large issue - mainly for women and children who always take the brunt of the suffering from disasters such as this. Contaminated flood waters and the lack of clean drinking water are causing outbreaks of waterborne diseases - like cholera.

Food Shortage: The flood waters have damaged countless acres of Pakistan's farmland and killed hundreds of thousands of livestock which raise fears for a possible food shortage. Getting food to the victims is a difficult task as it is, but even when the flood waters dry up, the farmland normally used to grow crops will be damaged - creating the possibility that the farming seasons will not be as fertile as they normally are, which would create a further food crisis. This UN Dispatch page shows the extent of the flooding as well as has an informative video showing how farmland in Pakistan's breadbasket has been destroyed. 

Funding and Aid Shortage: For some reason, the world has turned its back on Pakistan. I'm getting most of my news about the situation through humanitarian/aid news websites such as AlertNet, IRIN, and Reliefweb. I've only seen one segment on TV about the Pakistan floods which lasted only a minute or so, besides that, news from Pakistan has been hard to come by. It's not just the news that has been slow for Pakistan, but also the funds for relief efforts. The U.S. has sent the largest humanitarian response to Pakistan when compared to other countries, but according to the New York Times, the U.S. hopes that its aid to Pakistan will "reclaim" America's tarnish imaged (full article). The article goes on to say:

...68 percent of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the United States. American officials hope that images of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters ferrying supplies and plucking people from rain-swollen rivers will at least begin to counteract the bad will generated by American drone strikes against militants in Pakistan...“If we do the right thing, it will be good not only for the people whose lives we save but for the U.S. image in Pakistan,” [said] Richard C. Holbrooke.

I understand that the U.S. is seeking to 'reclaim' their image in Pakistan because (especially with wikileaks) it is now important to have those living in Pakistan on our side to win the so-called 'war on terror'. However, if the reason the U.S. is sending this much aid to Pakistan simply because they want to improve their image, what would've happened if the flooding didn't happen in Pakistan? What if it occurred in a country where the U.S. has no interests? Would they be sending aid then? Unfortunately, I think no. No matter what officials say, I think the U.S.'s main reason for sending the large sum of aid to Pakistan is primarily to boost the image - with a second priority being aiding those in need. 

Rajeet Ghosh wrote an interesting article for AlertNet (read full) which explores the lack of funding for those in Pakistan and the overall decrease in giving to humanitarian disasters worldwide, including the current famine in Niger. The follow statement from the article does a great job at highlighting the funding shortage and possible reasons for the lack of giving:

Donations from governments for the victims of that disaster [the 2004 flood in Haiti] topped $495 per affected person, according to Oxfam. The floods in Pakistan have been making headlines worldwide for more than two weeks and yet so far donations are only around $3 per person...Maybe one problem is that there are so many bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, conflicts and natural calamities these days that it is difficult for any one disaster to grab our attention and open our pockets.

 It's hard to tell whether the lack of funding for Pakistan is because of political reasons or if people just don't feel like taking out their checkbooks for all the natural disasters and humanitarian crisis that are now commonplace. Haiti won large segments on news stations for weeks, while Pakistan has to struggle to get mentioned at all! Is that because Haiti is located in the Western hemisphere and Pakistan is in an area where fighting and tragic events are commonplace? I'd hate to think that the reason for the lack of funding would be politically, religiously, or ethnically charged because after thousands have died, millions displaced, and countless people having their lives forever changed - none of the reasons will be able to make up for the people who are suffering.

My heart goes out to those having to live through the aftermath of all the flooding. I really hope that the monsoon season does not bring more rain and flooding to the area. My appreciation also goes out to all the aid workers that are located in the regions of flooding and for giving up their time to help those most in need. 

To get some perspective as to how horrible the flooding and situation is in Pakistan, take a look at these following photo slideshows from the New York Times:

I'd also recommend watching this video put out by MSF about their water distribution efforts in Pakistan and the threat of waterborne diseases there:

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