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Why we ignore Pakistan at our peril

2010 August 16
by Paul Vallely

Things are going from bad to worse in Pakistan. The monsoon flood waters have surged into new areas. One fifth of Pakistan – an area the size of Italy –  and round 20 million people are now said to be affected. Some six million are at high risk from deadly water-borne diseases Two million people have fled their homes.  It is the worst disaster which the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has ever seen, he said as he left the country at the weekend.

Yet barely a quarter of the aid needed for initial relief has arrived, the UN says. The response from the international community has been lamentable.  Compared with the reaction to many other international disasters – like the Haiti earthquake or the Indian ocean tsunami – aid is way down. There are a number of reasons for this. The global recession has turned eyes inwards. And appeals in August, when many people are on holiday and out of touch with the news, are traditionally unpredictable.

But reluctance may have been generated because this disaster is in Pakistan, a country which our prime minister has decried as “looking both ways” on global terrorism, and whose president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been perceived to be swanning around the rich world while his people are enduring the worst floods in their living memory. Mr Cameron’s ambivalence might easily have reinforced a subconscious reticence on behalf of other governments. So might the protests of angry flood survivors against the slow delivery of relief and the perceived inefficacy of the Pakistan government.

It is important not to over-react to any of that.  Initial relief is slow-moving because of the sheer scale of the problem and the fact that, unlike an earthquake, this is a slower disaster that is still unfolding. The failure of the West to properly assist could add to, rather than reduce, the risk of political instability and the danger of a dire long-term economic downturn which the International Monetary Fund has warned the floods could bring to a country already highly reliant on foreign aid. That could only add to the perils for a Pakistani government already reeling from a militant insurgency.

The British public has been steady if unspectacular in its giving, with charities taking in around £15m. The British government has taken a lead in the international effort, with donations of around £30m. More is needed from both. But, above all, ministers must press for a far greater and co-ordinated response from other governments. The international community must act, and it must act together.

One Response
  1. March 31, 2011

    dear I am Pakistani journalist and very disappointed when i read your comments about Islam as bogyman, i think you all people who are journalists or like Terry Junes a fundamentalist Jews in dress of Christian, all are with the power of your dirty pen with dirty thoughts teach us a lesson of religion harmony. I think that you now in Crusade against Islam as your forefather defeated by Sultan Selah u Din Ayoubi (a Kurd King). Your civilization and culture was in hell of barbarism, you did not know anything, you were illiterate and were playing in hand of Sadducees (a Jews sect) as a puppet, we Muslims in Spain awarded you independent of thoughts, we taught Science and Philosophy. Muslim scientists as Avicenna, Al Hazen, and Ibn e Rushed books gave you light of knowledge. You as a journalist do not fulfill your responsibility to write any word about the burning of Holy Quran. Like these acts we can’t shake hands with each other. I think you will consider my notions and will be felt your human being responsibility. I am editorial writer of Pakistan a class newspaper

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