Pakistan flood challenges compassion fatigue and local politics

ABC news calls the Pakistani flooding “the worst floods in memory.” Fourteen million homeless. Six million children affected. Sixteen percent of the country under water due to two weeks of monsoon rains, which have created literally hundreds of lakes, some the size of the state of Delaware.

It’s hard to get one’s mind around the scope of the disaster, and some may not even be inclined to try. After all, the Pakistani government has been duplicitous with us, taking our aid but providing cover to our enemies.

There’s not enough food, medicine, drinkable water, shelter, relief workers. The United States has pledged $71 million, and the United Nations has pledged to round up $459 million in emergency aid. Meanwhile, the militant Islamists damn foreign aid as a tool of subjugation. And the corrupt Pakistani government, which has failed to move proactively to build dams to combat previous monsoons, is failing again to meet the current challenge, in effect ceding the game to terrorist groups who will use the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of struggling disaster victims in the water-logged nation. If the government doesn’t serve the people and extremist charities use, as Asia Pacific News put it, “soft power” to win over disaster victims, it will ratchet up the attraction of extremist groups in this nuclear nation, and we will all be the worse for it.

The Christian Science Monitor raises the specter that the failure of local government to help in the tragedy will wreck the possibility of meaningful democratic government in Pakistan.
Providing aid to Pakistan is far more complicated than providing aid to Haiti, where at least the sometimes disjointed NGO’s were not fighting each other militarily or even Indonesia after the tsunami where the Aceh Islamic separatists worked cooperatively with international aid groups.

Recent stories by National Public Radio have highlighted this complexity in Pakistan. Take for example the Swat Valley, “where residents were still trying to recover from a major battle between Taliban militants and the army last spring that caused widespread destruction and drove nearly 2 million people from their homes.” The floods are piling misery upon misery in an unspeakable way.
Family friend Daniel Holmberg, is originally from Newton. A relief worker for some 20 years, he now heads the Pakistan mission for NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF). He worries that the international reaction may be nowhere what is needed because individual donors just move from one disaster to another. This, though the Pakistan disaster is said to eclipse the 2004 Tsunami and the Haiti earthquake put together, in terms of the number of people made homeless.

In an interview in France24 , Dan said, “Certain disasters such as the Haiti earthquake captured world attention. It is difficult to gauge the media coverage of the flooding, and I hope that Pakistan’s global image right now will not prejudice its people’s desperate needs.”

Dan sent the photos shown in this posting, which appeared in the Guardian. This young man has run relief operations in the worst hell-holes in the world, in wartime Iraq, in the Sudan. There is an air of frustration and urgency in his tone that should spur others to action.

It is very clear that if well-intentioned governments and institutions don’t respond, militant Islamists used to relying on terror to cow populations will step in to fill the void and use the opportunity to sow dissension for generations to come.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

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