It has been a bad summer for Pakistan. First, repeated terror attacks hit the country. One of the worst hit areas was the Data Darbar shrine, a center for the large Sufi following of an important saint and proponent of a peace-loving Islamic tradition. Second, a passenger plane crashed into Margalla hills in Islamabad killing everyone on board. And finally, the tragic flooding has affected over 18 million people, amongst whom 10 million are in dire need of immediate assistance. Over 130,000 square kilometers of land have been affected by the destruction of 1.2 million homes. This includes the destruction of 30 percent of farmland belonging to a largely agricultural based economy and the support system of millions of farmers. Not the ideal summer for the average Pakistani.
“The magnitude of the problem; the world has never seen such a disaster. It is beyond anybody’s imagination,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Indeed, the flooding in Pakistan has opened a Pandora’s box of humanitarian concerns. According to the United Nations, only 64 percent of the funds needed to meet the $ 458 million cost of the crisis have been found despite this being the single largest disaster of this century. According to a BBC report, by early August: “the international community had actually committed funding that works out at just over $3 per flood-affected person. The commitment per person after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake was $70 and for this year’s Haiti earthquake it was $495.” Donors have been slow in responding to this situation, although many reports by BBC correspondents tell heart-wrenching stories of displaced flood victims who are still lining the roads to the major cities, waiting for relief trucks to arrive.
So why all this apathy? A BBC report attributes it to donor fatigue from the tsunami, Haitian earthquake, and the effects of the economic crisis. Another factor is the role of corruption in the Pakistani government and private non-governmental organizations. In truth, Pakistan has been among the top recipients of US-AID since the Soviet war in Afghanistan and we have little to show for it. In a nation riddled with inefficient and corrupt policy makers, an affluent and listless upper class, an army that likes to step in at opportune moments, and a hotbed of extremist elements, Pakistan should have taken responsibility for its problems. The international community could only do so much.
But the floods have shifted this responsibility. Recent comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron labeling Pakistan as a country that promotes terror did not help donations. The people of Pakistan cannot be made to suffer any longer as a result of political concerns and international apprehensions about the government’s alleged links to terror groups. The government cannot reconstruct or provide relief so the civil society has taken it upon itself to do this. Many reliable organizations in Pakistan that have been effective for years now deserve the support of the international community. The resilience of the common man and heroic stories of rescue and support by the Pakistani citizen have only been touched upon by the media. The Edhi Foundation, run by Abdul Sattar Edhi, a recipient of numerous international and local awards, had the largest voluntary ambulance organization in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records 2000. This organization, along with numerous others like the Rural Support Program Network and The Citizen’s Foundation, has been functioning as the most effective charities since the floods struck. The dubiousness of many of Pakistan’s charities cannot be disputed, but the responsible and effective ones must and should be supported by the international community.
As students in a prestigious university, we can ask ourselves why a country so strategically important in the battle against extremist elements is being allowed to fall victim to this humanitarian disaster. Furthermore, those same elements are capitalizing on the opportunity to spread terror and garner support inside and outside its borders. The recent triple bombing of a Shi’ite procession in Lahore, followed by another on a similar procession in Quetta, in the midst of this unprecedented disaster is a blow not just to a minority Islamic sect in the country, but also to the system, which is struggling to pull itself together in the wake of this disaster. According to an August report in Reuters, Jamat ud Dawa, a charity with alleged links to the banned Lashkar e Taiba (responsible for the Mumbai attacks of 2008) was the first to arrive with supplies for flood victims in villages of Punjab. They had already established a reputation “as a tireless relief group” in the 2005 earthquake after aiding thousands of survivors.
How the rest of us deal with the floods is a make or break situation. This is an opportunity to rebuild in bigger and better ways, and also an opportunity to lay waste everything the world has struggled for since 9/11. As individuals we can contribute to the right places in our own small ways. The people of Pakistan have had a bad summer. This could turn into a bad year, a bad decade, and, altogether, a bad future. Finally, it is incumbent upon us to ask ourselves: what can we do?
Nur N. Ibrahim ’13 is a sophomore in Winthrop House.