Monday, August 23, 2010
Donor fatigue? Or Pakistan fatigue?
It may sound insensitive to say so millions are displaced by unprecedented floods, but possibly aid has been barely trickling in as Governments and people around the world feel indifferent to the plight of Pakistanis not because they are undeserving of charity but because of the Pakistani state which is seen as undeserving of sympathy. Over the years, more so in recent times, the Pakistani state has come to be seen as a criminal enterprise run by its jihad-promoting military-ISI complex, its political leaders corrupt and given to speaking with a forked tongue.
The stories of misery, hunger and helplessness are truly heart-rending. Millions of men, women and children have sought shelter in makeshift camps after abandoning their homes, often no more than hovels, in northern and southern Pakistan where rain-gorged rivers have breached their banks and floodwaters have inundated vast stretches of fertile land. These are supposed to be the worst floods to hit Pakistan in living memory; some say in 80 years, but there was no Pakistan then.
The tragedy began unfolding in late-July in north-western Pakistan after rivers, swollen with heavy monsoon rains, started swamping Punjab and Sindh provinces. Since then there has been no respite from the floods. Each day fetches further bad news about more places being inundated, more deaths, more people being rendered homeless. On Saturday, Dawn, in a report filed from Sukkur, reported 1,50,000 people were forced to move to higher ground as floodwaters from a freshly swollen Indus submerged dozens more towns and villages in the south.
Escaping the swirling floodwaters is no guarantee of survival. The real struggle to stay alive begins in crowded relief camps where food is in short supply, children are succumbing to diarrhoea, and the weak and the old are being left to fend for themselves. “I am a widow, and my children are too young to get food because of the chaos and rush,” Parveen Roshan told Dawn, “How can weak women win a fight with men to get food?”
Hunger and despair can do strange things to otherwise normal human beings, turning them into heartless monsters. As the Dawn report says, “Nearby, a doctor treated a boy whose back was injured after someone pushed him during a scramble for food at a truck.” The Pioneer last week published a photograph which showed a young girl, perhaps no more than 12 years old, who was shoved off a relief truck by men much older than her. The photo showed her lying on the road as the truck sped away.
According to reports in the Pakistani media, the terrible floods have affected about a fifth of that country’s territory. By the time the floodwaters begin receding, a quarter of Pakistan could be laid to waste. As with the rest of the Indian sub-continent, official statistics issued by the Government in Islamabad are unlikely to reflect the true scale of the devastation. The authorities say the floods have so far left at least six million people homeless and affected another 20 million people. The real numbers could be many times more.
Most of Pakistan’s poor and impoverished masses live in the flood-hit areas of Punjab and Sindh. When the poor lose their wherewithal, poverty becomes that much more stark and takes longer to deal with. It will take a long time, maybe years, to cope with the widespread death and destruction; the victims will have to start all over from a scratch, rebuilding their lives on the debris of nature’s fury. That’s the human cost.
Roads, bridges, railway lines, power transmission towers, public buildings have been washed away. All these need to be replaced. Modest estimates of the economic cost of the disaster run into billions of dollars. At such moments of crisis, the world should ideally step forward with a helping hand and an open purse. That’s called global responsibility. The UN has issued an appeal for contributions to a $460 million emergency assistance programme; the US has promised $150 million.
There are primarily two reasons why the global community should help Pakistanis in their hour of grief and need. First, as the experience of the 2005 earthquake has shown, unless there is prompt secular institutional intervention with adequate money and material, Islamist organisations and their terrorist fronts will step into the breach and use the human tragedy to their jihadi advantage. They will provoke anger against the state, hate against the world and recruit rageboys to their ranks.
More importantly, the vile ideology of Islamism will gain legitimacy among millions who till now never even thought of them and their organisations as an alternative to the system and the state. Islamists have successfully used such situations to promote their agenda and expand their organisational network. It’s in the world’s interest to prevent this from happening. We can do without Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and assorted jihadi organisations from becoming stronger than what they are at present.
Second, there is a moral dimension. The world cannot be at peace with itself when millions are suffering for no fault of theirs. It could be argued that millions go hungry around the world every day, so what’s new? But just because we have become inure to images of hunger, disease and death does not mean we should remain indifferent during a catastrophe. The human tragedy we are witnessing in Pakistan is as much a test for humanity as the earthquake that flattened Haiti earlier this years or the 2004 tsunami that left a trail of destruction from South-East Asia to Africa. India has done the morally right thing to contribute $ 5 million towards relief work.
Having said this, we must also acknowledge certain bitter facts. There has been a less-than-enthusiastic response from the international community and most countries have been reluctant to come to Pakistan’s aid. Despite repeated exhortations by the UN and the US, even cash-rich Islamic countries have been reluctant to step up to the plate that is being passed around.
Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani strategic affairs analyst, laments, “Nearly three weeks since the floods began, aid is trickling in slowly and reluctantly to the United Nations, NGOs, and the Pakistani Government... After the Haiti earthquake, about 3.1 million Americans using mobile phones donated $10 each to the Red Cross, raising about $31 million. A similar campaign to raise contributions for Pakistan produced only about $10,000. The amount of funding donated per person affected by the 2004 tsunami was $1,249.80, and for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, $1,087.33. Even for the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, funding per affected person was $388.33. Thus far, for those affected by the 2010 floods, it is $16.36 per person.”
So what’s gone wrong? Is it simply donor fatigue? Or is it Pakistan specific? It may sound insensitive to say so at this point of time, but possibly Governments and people feel indifferent to the plight of Pakistanis not because they are undeserving of charity but because of the Pakistani state which is seen as undeserving of sympathy. Over the years, more so in recent times, the Pakistani state has come to be seen as a criminal enterprise run by its jihad-promoting military-ISI complex, its political leaders corrupt and given to speaking with a forked tongue.
Here is a country that has no ceiling on the money it spends on acquiring guns, figher aircraft, frigates and missiles to keep the Generals of Rawalpindi in good humour. Here is a country which has fooled the world into believing that it is in the frontline of the war on terror while all the while sheltering leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Here is a country which protects mass murderers and exports terrorism to countries far and wide.
Can such a country be trusted with billions of dollars in aid? Indeed, is Pakistan deserving of the sympathy it constantly demands of others, playing the victimhood card, while refusing to reciprocate with the smallest of gestures that would suggest it can still distinguish between that which is morally right and wrong?