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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.

Others point to the humanitarian overload of the last few months, with the Chilean and Haitian quakes followed by this summer’s fires in Russia.  After witnessing so much suffering, people’s reserves of emotion are running low.  This is compounded by the economic doldrumsand associated self-absorptionthat continue to grip much of the donor world.

Or maybe it’s just that people are on vacation.  After all, it’s August.  But holidays did not prevent governments and ordinary citizens pumping millions of dollars into aid agencies when the Tsunami struck on December 26, 2005.  It is true, that particular holiday, with its huge emotional pull and its associated over-indulgence, probably played a decisive role in mobilizing support.

So why is Pakistan having such trouble attracting support?  When the earthquake struck, the proximity of Haiti to the US, historical ties to the Europe, and the large Haitian diaspora all played a part in embossing the country’s plight onto people’s imagination around the world.  Pakistan also has historical tiesnotably to the UKas well as a large diaspora. But somehow these factors have not been clinchers.

People battered and displaced by Pakistan’s floods are the victims of the country’s image.  One day the country is on the cover of news magazines, identified as one of the world’s most dangerous places. The next day people are called on to pony up cash for a place defined in the popular imagination by instability and nuclear weapons. It is a tough sell.

There may be other subliminal factors at work.  One is the extent to which people see the crisis as fixable and, if it is, whether they believe the funds they donate will contribute to the fixing.

We see the same bind in countries whose fragility makes them prone to violent conflict.  Most development instruments and donors reward strong performers, particularly performance on governance indicators.  This is driven by the belief that aid is likely to be less well used, and less productive, in poor governance environments.  The result is that fragile states as a group receive less funding per capita than other countries.

Whatever the reasons, Pakistan is getting less help than it needs. The hope must be that the aid tide turns in Pakistan’s favor lest the scope and scale of this natural disaster place unbearable stress on an already troubled state.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
I wonder if people tend to think of earthquakes and tsunamis as rare, massive single events, with major consequences. Whereas they think of flooding as normal, not that serious (they might have been in a flood, but have probably never been hit by a tsunami or major earthquake), and something that happens as a more gradual accumulation rather than a single EVENT.

Submitted by waqar on
I HAVE BEEN WATCHING THE DISASTER AND DESTRUCTION BY NATURE IN OUR COUNTRY, THE FLOOD! MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE DISPLACED AND ARE HUNGRY BUT WE ARE STILL JUST PLANNING THINGS, OUR ALL RELIEF EFFORTS ARE SCATTERED AND ABRUPT, WE ARE NOT MANAGED NOR ORGANIZED. I AM WRITING, AS I HAVE AN IDEA TO OVERCOME ALL THESE THINGS, YOU HAVE THE ACCESS TO THE PEOPLE, WHO CAN IMPLEMENT / IMPROVE IT AND PROVIDE BETTER SOLUTION TOWARDS THE RELIEF EFFORTS. THE BASIC LOGIC BEHIND THE IDEA IS “SUPPOSE A PERSON JUST GO TO THE OFFICE IN MORNING AND BY EVENING HE FORGETS ALL ABOUT HIS HOME OR HIS MEMORY IS JUST WASHED OUT THEN HE WILL BE WONDERING ON ROADS AND WILL NEVER REACH HOME” SAME IS THE CASE WITH FLOOD. PEOPLE HAVE LOST THEIR HOMES, THEY DON’T KNOW WHERE TO GO, THEY DON’T WANT TO LEAVE THEIR BELONGINGS, BUT THEY ARE FORCED TO DO SO. NOW THEY ARE SCATTERED THEY ARE LIVING IN CAMPS, HERE AND THERE. ALL WHO PROVIDE AID ALSO DON’T KNOW TO WHOM SHOULD THEY GIVE THE AID. THEY JUST GIVE THE THINGS TO THOSE WHO ARE REACHABLE. GOVERNMENT SHOULD ANNOUNCE TO TEMPORARILY BUILD THE FLOOD RELIEF CITY INSTEAD OF CAMPS, AND THESE CITY OR CITIES SHOULD BE BUILT NEARER TO THE DESTROYED AREAS AND NEAR TO MAIN CITIES LIKE IN SOUTHERN PUNJAB. MULTAN IS SAFE FROM FLOOD BUT THE CITIES/VILLAGES NEARER TO IT ARE DESTROYED, NOW GOVERNMENT SHOULD PROCURE LAND FROM PRIVATE PEOPLE ON SHORT TERM LEASE OF 6 MONTHS OR ONE YEAR AND ASK ALL THE DEPARTMENTS, THE NGOS, THE ORGANIZATIONS, AND ALL THE WELFARE SOCIEITES TO PLACE THEIR CAMPS IN THE SAID RELIEF CITY. GOVERNMENT SHOULD PICK ALL THE AFFECTED PEOPLE AND PLACE THEM IN THE SAID CITY, WHAT WOULD BE THE BENEFIT FOR THIS: • OUR ALL EFFORTS WOULD BE CENTRALIZED AND CAN BE MANAGED MORE EFFECTIVELY. • EXACT NUMBER OF PEOPLE LOST CAN BE MONITORED. • BETTER SERVICES OF SENITATION / MEDICATION CAN BE PROVIDED. • LESS THREAT OF SPREAD OF DISEASES DUE TO BETTER MEDICAL SERVICES. • BETTER FOOD AND BETTER SECURITY CAN BE PROVIDED. • RESOURCES WOULD BE USED MORE EFFICIENTLY. • PRIVATE PEOPLE CAN ALSO WORK WITH GOVERNMENT AND THUS GOVERNMENT CAN GAIN THE LOST CONFIDENCE. • ALL THE INTERNATIONAL AID CAN BE MONITORED PROPERLY. • BETTER DRINKING WATER ARRANGMENTS CAN BE PROVIDED. • ALL AID SUPPLIERS WILL BE RIGHT DIRECTED AND PERISHABLE ITEMS WOULD BE MANAGED IN A BETTER WAY. • BETTER TRANSPORTATION SERVICES CAN BE PROVIDED. • PRIVATE PEOPLE AND GOVERNEMNT PEOPLE WILL WORK TOGETHER FOR A MAIN CAUSE AND EVERY BODY WOULD BE AWARE OF HIS REPONSIBILITIES. THESE ARE A FEW DESCRIBED BENEFITS, THERE ARE MORE, BY DOING SO GOVERNMENT AND OTHER AGENCIES CAN GIVE BETTER ATTENTION TOWARDS THE REHABILITIATION PROCESS AND CAN ARRANGE THE RECONSTRUCTION PHASE EARLY. ALL THE SMALL RELIEF CAMPS MIGHT BE CONVERTED IN RESCUE CAMPS AND THERE IS ONLY A CENTRALIZED RELIEF CITY, WHERE PEOPLE CAN ACCESS EASILY, WHERE PEOPLE CAN REGISTER, WHERE THEY HAVE SECURITY, FOOD, SHELTER, SANITATION, AND MEDICAL FACILITIES. WHEN THE FLOOD RECEEDS THEN THOSE WHO WANT TO GO TO THEIR HOMES SHOULD BE COMPENSATED WITH A REASONABLE AMOUNT DEPENDING ON THE SIZE OF THE FAMILY FOR RECONSTRUCTION OF HIS / HER HOMES. IT’S A ROUGH SKETCH, BUT WE CAN FILL IT WITH COLORS OF SUCCESS. WE NEED AN INITIATIVE FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND YOU ARE THE PEOPLE WHO CAN RAISE THIS VOICE, I DON’T HAVE ANY OTHER SOURCE TO SPEAK OUT AND THEREFORE SENDING THIS EMAIL TO YOU. IF YOU WANT TO DISCUSS IT IN DETAIL WITH ME, PLEASE DO CONTACT. MAY ALLAH HELP US TO HELP OTHERS.

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