No. 4: Pakistan Floods

The monsoons come every July in Pakistan, but the 2010 torrents were the worst in 100 years. By the time the rains subsided, a full one-fifth of the country was underwater — an area of land that, if located in the U.S., would stretch from Minnesota to Texas. So far, the floods have taken the lives of around 2,000 Pakistanis, and the death toll is likely to rise, especially among children, as diseases like cholera and dengue fever threaten to spread, and as 6 million left homeless face the brutal cold of winter.

The disaster, causing an estimated $9.6 billion in damages, inflicted poverty and starvation on 3 million young women and 6 million children as it washed away entire villages and livestock and devastated 7.8 million acres of farmland.  And, as the Independent noted, in a “place used to wretched ironies,” a particularly cruel one has been the lack of safe drinking water, a crisis that will persist for decades.

Perhaps more devastating is just how little international relief Pakistan received in the first desperate days. In the immediate wake of the Haiti quake, more than $742 million in international aid was committed to the relief effort, and $920 million pledged. For Pakistan, however, governments worldwide had committed only $45 million by August 9, and pledged an additional $91 million. By September, the United States had provided $200 million for the Pakistan relief effort — less than half of what went to Haiti — and no troops or online social networking to coordinate relief efforts on the ground.

The sluggish donations from otherwise generous Americans may come from many reasons: Recession-plagued people suffering from “donor fatigue,” rising anti-Islam sentiment, and outrage toward extremist organizations in Pakistan funding al-Qaida (which also were linked to local relief groups). Reluctance may also stem from fears that the government, which flat-out rejected any Western oversight, will misuse the funding.

However, some people fear that lack of funds could end up being a diplomatic mistake, and that signs of U.S. compassion could turn the tide on the growing anti-American fervor in the country and diminish support for Islamist extremists. It may not be too late. The U.N. just put out a renewed plea for international donations to the Pakistani relief fund, which was countered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who demanded that the Pakistani government prove it is fighting corruption before it receives any more relief money.

Reports from the ground, though, show that Pakistanis are helping themselves. With less than half of the $1.9 billion needed received by the U.N. and winter fast approaching, that spirit is needed. ““We appreciate all the outside help, including seeds being supplied by the US,” one Pakistani told a UN news service reporter, “but the Pukhtoon are proud people and we are determined to help ourselves.”

Find out how you can help the Pakistan relief effort.

–Lisa Hix