Pakistani dilemma

Given the circumstances, there is reason to doubt that more aid will actually help Pakistan’s flood victims. But one thing is clear: Without aid, things can only get worse.

[ By Mohammad Ali Khan ]

“I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.” With these words, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed up his impressions after visiting Pakistan’s flood affected regions in mid August.

As disaster was unfolding in Pakistan, leaders of the international community began to worry not only about human suffering, but also the security implications. On the one hand, millions of people are uprooted because of the floods and they need food, shelter and medication. On the other hand, Pakistan is a frontline state in the war on terrorism. Western leaders have reason to fear that Islamist forces will try to take advantage of people’s misery.

Preliminary data suggest that the floods have disrupted the lives of 20 million people – 13 percent of the population. More than 1,700 people died. The floods destroyed infrastructure worth at least $ 7 billion. Around 1.2 million houses and crops on 2.6 million acres have been wiped out. The floods submerged one fifth of Pakistan, an area which is roughly the size of Belgium, Austria and Switzerland combined.

No doubt, this was one of the worst disasters in living memory. In terms of aid, however, it attracted less attention than Haiti’s earthquake earlier this year or the one in Pakistan in 2005. After the earthquake in Haiti, the UN called for almost $ 577 million for immediate relief purposes, and that sum was mobilised within a month. This time, the UN called for $ 460 million, but by early September only $ 260 million was made available, most of it by multilateral institutions and bilateral donors. It is true that, after Ban Ki-moon visited the country, more money was promised. According to Pakistan’s government, the pledges now amount to $1.1 billion.

Actual disbursement, however, is quite another thing. The government should know. Pakistan is a crisis-ridden country. Political instability, a violent Islamist insurgency and severe economic mismanagement have several times forced the government to turn to the outside world for help. Earlier this year, the UN had already appealed for $ 660 million to help Pakistan deal with an internal displacement triggered by armed conflict. The country did not even get half the amount the UN had called for.

In view of the floods, private donors were not very charitable either. To the extent that they did give money, they tried to make sure that it would not be channeled through the government. That Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari went on a foreign trip to Britain while the floods were rising and took no interest in the fate of the affected people certainly did not motivate the Western public to be generous. Observers in Pakistan feel that donors have become somewhat tired of Pakistan’s woes.

There is a serious dilemma. On the one hand, various Pakistani governments have been unable to provide the kind of governance the country needs to develop, so partners have become hesitant to lend a helping hand. On the other hand, the problems have become so huge that the government is indeed out of its depths and certainly needs support. Given the circumstances, there is reason to doubt whether more aid will actually help in Pakistan. But it is absolutely obvious that things can only get worst without aid. The people affected by the floods, moreover, feel let down.

Pakistan will be struggling with the consequences of this recent disaster for many years. Reconstruction will take a lot of time. Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood star and UN good-will ambassador, has remarked that Pakistan will not be able to handle reconstruction on its own. She visited Pakistan in early September. Apparently, she has personally donated more money towards relief than any single Pakistani politician, including Zardari.

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