TOPICS: Save Pakistan from ‘donor fatigue’

Time is running out for tens of thousands of survivors of the 7.6 earthquake that devastated parts of Pakistan on October 8, claiming more than 73,000 lives and leaving three million homeless. Winter is fast approaching. Experts believe one million people are at risk of hypothermia. Two hundred thousand villagers in more remote areas may soon be cut off by snow. A “second wave” of deaths from cold, hunger and disease is feared.

Time is running out for the international community to respond in a way that is befitting a disaster of this magnitude. Of the $550 million the UN called for in its “flash appeal,” only $119 million, or 22 per cent, has been received. Contrast this with the overwhelming international response to the tsunami that struck last December. The UN’s emergency appeal was more than 80 per cent financed within days of the disaster. Since then, an estimated $13.6 billion has been raised internationally, some 92 countries have provided assistance, and the overall response to the tsunami is emerging as an exemplary story in disaster relief and recovery.

What explains this striking difference between the global response to the tsunami and to the earthquake? First, extensive media coverage and the presence of many foreigners ensured that the tsunami received high-level and private attention on the part of donors. In case of the earthquake, those living in the region bore the full brunt of the catastrophe. Second, the tsunami-impacted areas were relatively easy to reach by sea, even though the area affected across the Indian Ocean was huge. In Pakistan, the only way of reaching the areas is by helicopter, making the provision of relief supplies a logistical nightmare. Finally, earthquake relief efforts are suffering from “donor fatigue,” including in the US which gave generously first to the tsunami and, more recently, to the hurricanes that hit the southeastern US.

An assessment by the World Bank says Pakistan will need approximately $5.2 billion to effectively implement a relief, recovery and reconstruction plan. But first Pakistan’s survivors will need to get through the winter and the global community must do more to assist them.

To date the US has made $156 million available to Pakistan for relief and reconstruction needs. The US military is playing a key role as well. A Navy construction battalion is helping to clear roads; Army helicopters have flown over a thousand missions to deliver aid to isolated communities and to transport injured people for medical treatment. The US should pledge to raise its assistance to $500 million and urge other international donors to follow its example by substantially boosting their aid. Currently, Pakistan has received help from 50 nations.

Every effort should be made to match this increase in official US aid with donations from the American private sector. Again, the tsunami response experience is instructive. US charitable giving of $1.7 billion almost doubled the amount of Washington’s official aid package of $900 million. — The Christian Science Monitor