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World Politics

Inequality of mercy

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

Waiting for the aid tide to turn
Photo © Wordpress

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a special session of the UN General Assembly today to draw attention to the calamitous situation in Pakistan and the urgency of raising $460 million for flood victims.  The lukewarm response to the UN’s appeal (less than 40% pledged so far) compares unfavorably with the $1 billion committed to Haiti within 10 days of the earthquake last January.

The difference in the speed and generosity of the international response to these two humanitarian tragedies is stark. Why does one catastrophe strike a chord and win a boat-load of funding while another elicits compassion but little cash?

With 1,500 dead, 20 million people displaced, and millions of hectares of agricultural land underwater, Pakistan would seem to have a solid claim on international support.

We have heard many explanations for the disappointing response.  John Holmes, The UN’s emergency relief coordinator travelling with Ban Ki-moon in Pakistan last weekend, contrasted the drama of an earthquake or the tsunami with the ‘slow burn’ of this crisis, as the flood waters slowly engulf a fifth of the country.