Pakistan: Hardship and anguish

It has been called the worst flood in Pakistan’s history. Approximately 3.5 million survivors only have contaminated water to drink. With little food and clean water to hand out, recovery is estimated to take at least three years.

In addition to these figures, one fifth of Pakistan’s land, an area the size of Belgium, Switzerland and Austria combined, is submerged underwater. Donations from Canada and the rest of the world are seriously trailing other relief efforts taken earlier this decade.

The floods were triggered by heavy monsoons that began on July 29. Since then, flooding has impacted more than 17 million people, more than half of whom relied on assistance by aid organizations or the Pakistani government even before the chaos began.

The United Nations is desperately trying to rally much-needed cash assistance, but is meeting resistance from both government groups and civilians in various countries. A variety of factors are influencing the lack of assistance.

The timing of the disaster could not have been worse. In the summer, when most people are spending their savings on vacations, charitable donations drop considerably when compared to that of the holiday season.

Second, there has already been one major natural disaster this year, and most governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) plan for only one large-scale disaster.

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Graphic by Wade McAdam

Floods have raged in areas along the Indus River including Sindh, Lower Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions.

Ironically, disasters that have a larger death toll also tend to draw bigger donations. The instantaneous death of 200,000 in Haiti last January drew more public attention than the current 1,600 casualties in Pakistan.

In another twist of fate, Pakistan, one of the world’s largest producers of tents, sent their stockpiles to Haiti earlier this year, preventing them from using their tents to provide shelter to those who now need it in their country.

Finally, there has been a large focus on Pakistan being a haven for Islamic extremists and terrorists who are interfering with the war in Afghanistan. Edmund Pries, of Laurier’s global studies department, emphasized this point when asked why Canadians in particular have avoided intervention.

“After the governments of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have all repeatedly painted Pakistan as a hotbed of terrorist support and a major factor in the opposition NATO is encountering in Afghanistan, should we be surprised that Canadians are somewhat slower to respond with disaster aid?” Pries questioned.

But that is not the only factor affecting Canadian donations. The current Canadian government was very slow to announce that they would match donations from Canadian organizations working in Pakistan.

In contrast, after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and the recent earthquake in Haiti, the announcement was immediate.

“Like it or not, Canadians do listen and follow the signals of their government,” said Pries.

Donor fatigue is a final factor that could be affecting donations to the people of Pakistan.
With the current season and the current economy, people may not have the disposable income to support another relief project.

Regardless, it is not the time to dwell on the criticisms that have been thrown at Pakistan, but instead on the level of human devastation and the families experiencing personal tragedies.

Hundreds of thousands of cattle have drowned and acres of farmland has been destroyed, meaning that this flood could result in a famine affecting more than just Pakistan.

As Pries pointed out: “These twenty million people who have lost their homes are not terrorists but simply people like you and me trying to eke out a meager living and support their families from very little land. They have lost everything.”