Why Are So Many Donors Ignoring Pakistan?

Twenty percent of Pakistan is under water, and it’s getting way, way less attention – and more importantly – financial support – that the earthquake in Haiti generated. It’s true that in terms of initial casualties, the situation in Haiti was far worse, but the long-term impact of the Pakistani floods is going to dwarf the catastrophe in Haiti. That fact is apparently being ignored, by both the media and donors.

At Aid Watch, Laura Freschi points out that “Compared to the response to the Haitian earthquake, media coverage of the Pakistan floods has been paltry. While news coverage isn’t correlated with need, it does have a major effect on the amount of disaster relief aid given.” She offers the depressing explanation that the attention – and money – given in response to disasters is based on how popular the area is with American tourists.

Reality-Based Community blogger Andrew Sabl suggests that floods just aren’t scary enough. His take:

…floods aren’t as impressive; they don’t seem violent or disastrous.  They evoke images of wading to higher ground where help will arrive. We can’t picture a reality in which the help, in an unimaginably large area, has also been flooded out.

The New York Times blames:

…preoccupation with economic problems; donor fatigue with natural disasters and the August vacation season when many people pay less attention to the news. Finally, Pakistan itself suffers from an image problem as a hotbed of Taliban activity and the source of renegade nuclear sales, which can give donors pause.

I suspect the answer is a blend of all these factors, and a couple more. Americans are leery about giving to Muslim groups (for an example, see the comments on this blog post from Charity Navigator) for fear of accidentally supporting terror or running afoul of strict US laws on material support to terrorist affiliated groups. And, of course, there’s Islamophobia. I’ve seen more than one blog discussion with an ugly undertone of “the Muslims deserve what they get.”

It’s a depressing mishmash of factors, but here’s what I know for sure. Innocent people are suffering as a result. The three and a half million Pakistani children at risk for fatal waterborne illness didn’t have anything to do with Pakistan’s status as a nuclear state and they’re not old enough for violent beliefs. They’re just kids, who may die from diarrhea if no one gets them clean water and a place to use the toilet. Now would be a good time to help them. And no one’s going to get in trouble for accidentally supporting terror by donating to a major international NGO.