Pakistan’s muted cry for help

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the disaster in Pakistan is like “few the world has ever seen, requiring a response to match.” But compared to all recent major disasters, Pakistan’s flood aid is coming at a much slower pace. Is the West letting Pakistan down?

A friend of mine who was coming to visit from France last weekend made this comment to me in the tube: “so many people trying to raise funds on the streets here for the victims of Pakistan’s flood. In Paris, I barely ever noticed anyone collecting anything for them since the catastrophy started.” In London, she felt it was different.

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I believe it is true that here in London efforts made for the Pakistanis can be seen. Young people collect money in the tubes and on street corners for charities in action back in Pakistan. Posters are everywhere and I even received a text from Orange today telling me to send a text back to help UNICEF‘s efforts.

What’s behind the West’s lack of support?

I started questioning why the reaction is not like that in France. In fact, the BBC indirectly questionned and explained that recently in an article titled: “Who cares about Pakistan?” written by Jude Sheerin. In this article, Mrs Sheerin gives 5 main reasons why people are feeling less concerned about the Pakistani flood:

– “Donor fatigues” – There has been a number of natural disasters over the past couple of years.
-“Corruption” – The international image of the Pakistani government.
– “Terrorism” – The Talibans’ presence there.
– “Timing” – This is happening right after Haiti’s earthquake and the financial crisis.
– “‘Wrong’ disaster” – It happened gradually with no sudden catastrophe, and the media is missing its drama there.

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I understand most of the reasons given are well-grounded. The seemingly increasing threat of global warming, the recession, the current international conflicts… It’s starting to be to much for the western man.

Is the lack of support from the West justifiable?

Dr Marie Lall, Pakistan expert at the Royal Institute of International Affair, when she says: “The [2004] Indian Ocean tsunami, the Burmese Cyclone [Nargis, 2008], the [2005] Pakistan earthquake, and [this year’s] Haiti earthquake. It is getting too much; we are in a recession and people are short of money.”

This is quite understandable. But are we so much in our bubble that we’d rather care for our next month’s salary than a child stuck on a roof with no food?

I understand people’s doubt about corruption based on the current state of the Pakistani government. Dr Marie Lall says: “People in Pakistan are sceptical the government will be transparent. But they are giving to philanthropic organisations. In the UK, I think people are sceptical of [non-governmental organisations’] overheads and costs.” But will we also reach a point where we will stop trusting non-governmental organisations?

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And terrorism… well what do I say about terrorism? Hasn’t it been the best excuse for all mistakes perpetrated by the west in the past few years? A BBC article 2 days ago was titled “Pakistan flood victims ‘have no concept of terrorism'”.

And have we become so terrorised by the Talibans that we would let a whole population down because of them? After all it’s not about helping the Talibans. It’s about helping people, human lives. Couldn’t that actually participate in giving the west a better image than the Talibans in Pakistan?

Pakistan’s disaster and the media

And finally, how can there ever be any “wrong” disaster? Professor Dean Karlan says: “Sudden events seem to generate more funds. A flood (and droughts) happen gradually and build. There isn’t any one single day in which news is huge. For the same reason, this pushes the story away from the media spotlight. But massive and sudden earthquakes or tsunamis draw our immediate attention and shock us.”

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I feel the media is simply not doing the best of jobs in reporting the issues. This disaster doesn’t seem dramatic enough, but ironicaly lives have been affected more than ever before. The UN reported 13.8 million people affected by the flood.

A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) press release said, “this is a higher figure than those who were affected by the 2005 South Asia tsunami (five million), the 2005 South Asia earthquake (three million), or the 2010 Haiti earthquake (three million). The estimate of homes destroyed or seriously damaged — 290,000 — is almost the same as those destroyed in Haiti.” So what exactly is less dramatic for the news?

Pakistan’s muted cry.

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However much we see happening and hear around us in London concerning the catastrophe in Pakistan, they see even less in France. But what is happening in Pakistan might deserve more attention than is actually given anywhere in the West and we are not actually seeing everything that is going on there.

All Pakistan needs today is an ear to catch their cry muted below all world’s issues .

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