A country that is at the center of US foreign policy is experiencing a calamity the likes of which it has never seen. So why in the world is there nary a mention of the Pakistan floods on the homepages of both the New York Times and Washington Post? There is nothing above the fold on the homepage, no mention below the fold and not even a link in the lower headline boxes:
This is really astonishing to me. In terms of sheer number of people affected, the Pakistan floods exceed the number of people affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. 13 million people are in need of some sort of assistance because of this flooding. Millions are left homeless, many thousands require basic food assistance. Pakistan’s cotton and rice industry is wiped out. The democratically elected civilian government is under fire for failing to adequately respond to the crisis, and it would appear that the Pakistani military and even insurgent groups are filling the gap.
Meanwhile, the areas that are hardest hit are also those where the fight against the Taliban and a Qaeda is most intense. And it would appear that flood aid is already being considered a legitimate target in that battle. The Pakistani Taliban have warned the government against receiving foreign aid, saying that the Taliban itself will provide aid. And lest you think this is just bravado, remember that this same group dispatched a suicide bomber to the World Food Program’s headquarters in Islamabad last year.
Just how dire is this crisis in humanitarian terms? Here is what humanitarian agencies on the ground are saying:
UNHCR has been working in coordination with the government, UN agencies and charities on the ground to respond to the crisis and meet the needs for food, shelter, medicine and water. Although we have the benefit of a presence in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces dating back more than 32 years, meeting the demands of this crisis is a massive challenge. In Balochistan Province, for example, our stockpiles are nearly exhausted. Trucks despatched from Peshawar, Karachi and and Lahore carrying additional tents and other items have been delayed in some instances for more than a week by flooded roads. In parts of the Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), in Pakistan’s mountainous north, reaching affected areas remains difficult due to landslides or bridges having been cut. In these areas thousands of people in need of aid are currently still inaccessible.
Almost 14 million people are now affected by the floods in Pakistan according to latest figures, and that number is likely to increase with water now surging south into Sindh Province. The UN now describes the floods as the world’s “worst” current disaster but compared with other recent crises the speed of the response to Pakistan’s flooding has been sluggish. As of 9 August 2010, according to the UN’s financial tracking system, less than $45m has been committed, plus $91m pledged, which breaks down to $3.20 committed per flood affected person.
This pales in comparison with the amounts committed to other crises. Within the first 10 days of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which left some 3.5m people homeless, the international community had committed $247m and pledged $45m. This works out to $70 committed per person, 10 days into the crisis.
In the first 10 days after Cyclone Nargis, which affected 2.4m when it struck off the coast of Myanmar, almost $110m was committed (and $109m pledged) in the first 10 days. This works out at $46 committed per person.
Likewise some $742m was committed to Haiti 10 days after the quake and $920 million pledged. Some 1.5m were directly affected by the quake, which works out at $495 per person, in funds committed, in the first 10 days.
We’re particularly concerned about the needs of 600,000 people in the north of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province,” said WFP Pakistan Director Wolfgang Herbinger. “These people can only be reached by helicopter and for three days over the weekend — because of the bad weather — our helicopters were not able to fly.
Chart of Historical Natural Disaster Events in Pakistan