The United Nations has characterized the destruction caused by the floods in Pakistan as greater than the damage from the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Yet nearly three weeks since the floods began, aid is trickling in slowly and reluctantly to the United Nations, NGOs, and the Pakistani government.
After the Haiti earthquake, about 3.1 million Americans using mobile phones donated $10 each to the Red Cross, raising about $31 million. A similar campaign to raise contributions for Pakistan produced only about $10,000. The amount of funding donated per person affected by the 2004 tsunami was $1249.80, and for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, $1087.33. Even for the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, funding per affected person was $388.33. Thus far, for those affected by the 2010 floods, it is $16.36 per person.
Why has the most devastating natural disaster in recent memory generated such a tepid response from the international community? Something of a cottage industry is emerging to try to answer this latest and most sober of international mysteries.
There is no shortage of theories. It’s donor fatigue. It’s Pakistan fatigue. It’s because the Pakistani government is corrupt and can’t be trusted. It’s because the victims are Muslim. It’s because people think a nuclear power should be able to fend for itself. It’s because floods — particularly these floods — spread their destruction slowly, over a period of time, rather than instantaneously. It’s because of the tighter budgets of Western governments. It’s because of the lingering effects of the financial crisis.
There’s a degree of truth to all these explanations. But the main reason that Pakistan isn’t receiving attention or aid proportionate to the devastation caused by these floods is because, well, it’s Pakistan. Given a catastrophe of such epic proportions in any normal country, the world would look first through a humanitarian lens. But Pakistan, of course, is not a normal country. When the victims are Haitian or Sri Lankan — hardly citizens of stable, well-government countries, themselves — Americans and Europeans are quick to open their hearts and wallets. But in this case, the humanity of Pakistan’s victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country.