Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Why has there been no flood of aid for Pakistan?

Oh Pakistan, what will become of you? Between one fifth and one quarter of the country has been under water for three weeks now; 1,600 people have died, six million people are homeless and the damage to roads, bridges, dams, schools and villages will take at least £10bn to repair.

Pakistan’s national debt currently stands at £36bn. This debt will rise to over £45bn in 2015 when other loans become due.

It’s a desperate situation yet, so far, donations to the flood appeal have reached around £195m. Notably, the biggest donor was the US Government (£97m), followed by the UK Government (£32m), Saudi Arabia (£26m), Germany (£21m) and the European Union (£25m). And while these donations are most welcome, I think we can all agree that £195m falls far short of the £10bn bill for the damage wreaked by the Indus River overflowing.

Donations from individuals have not exactly been flooding in, please pardon the pun. It seems that compassion fatigue may be to blame, as people everywhere are forced to look to their own financial woes.

But there’s also a sense of unease surrounding the plight of Pakistan. Some have asked why a country with nuclear weapons and a huge army should ask for charity at all. Some have asked why Pakistan didn’t appear to have a disaster plan for just such an emergency, for this is a country used to heavy rainfall.

Some have asked why the Pakistan diaspora hasn’t sent more money thus far. And some have asked why the wealthy Muslim nations, for example the oil-rich Gulf States, haven’t sent huge donations.

I read last week that the Taliban in Pakistan has told ordinary people they must not accept aid from the West, so that’s bound to deter some donations also. The death toll is 1,600 but this figure could climb much higher if cholera and starvation get a hold.

It truly is a desperate situation. And while nobody in their right mind would take any comfort from Pakistan’s current hardships, it seems that many people just want to look the other way.

I support several charities and give away a fair percentage of my income, though if I cancelled all my direct debits I could invest the savings in a private pension plan.

I know I should look to my own retirement but so far I haven’t been able to write that letter to the bank.

One of the charities I support is a school in India and, I have to confess, it does sadden me that I am paying to educate a little girl when the Indian government is also a nuclear power. It also saddens me when I see older women and young girls selling The Big Issue on the streets of Belfast; I always wonder why these women and girls aren’t being taken care of by their extended families.

But to return to the subject of Pakistan: do you think the lack of donations is directly due to the ‘them and us’ mentality that has resulted from the War on Terror?

Well, I think we ought to consider this possibility. I think that many westerners believe the Muslim nations of the world despise the West and everything it stands for, most notably, personal freedom. So why should ordinary Westerners deny themselves their few small luxuries in order to give their hard-earned money to people who have no respect for them? It’s a complicated situation that will take decades to remedy. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the homeless and hungry people there do not have decades.

As the global recession deepens, I can’t help but fear that the charity industry will be one of the biggest casualties.

Many, if not most, Westerners are counting every penny nowadays; and those who do have money to spare will think twice about who they give it to.

And while not everyone in the West supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, they do take exception to being branded decadent, sinful and non-believers.

Sadly, the War on Terror seems to be adding another victim to an already-long list: the neutrality of need.

I wonder if the 9/11 bombers would have crashed those planes into the Twin Towers if they had known how their actions might affect the Pakistan floods appeal of 2010.

And I wonder how many development projects could have been funded worldwide by the one trillion dollars the War on Terror, initiated by President George Bush, will eventually cost the United States of America.

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