Islamabad — The global aid response to the Pakistan floods has been much less generous than to other recent natural disasters — despite the soaring numbers of people affected and the prospect of more economic ruin in a country key to the fight against Islamist extremists.
Reasons include the relatively low death toll of 1,500, the slow onset of the flooding compared with more immediate and dramatic earthquakes or tsunamis, and a global “donor fatigue” — or at least a Pakistan fatigue.
Triggered by monsoon rains, the floods have torn through the country from its mountainous northwest, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and an estimated 1.7 million acres of farmland. In southern Pakistan, the River Indus is now more than 15 miles wide at some points — 25 times wider than during normal monsoon seasons.
The floods have disrupted the lives of 14 million people — 8 percent of the population. Many are living in muddy camps or overcrowded government buildings, while thousands more are sleeping in the open next to their cows, goats and whatever possessions they managed to drag with them.
And the U.N. says more flood surges may be on the way. Late Friday, local TV reported more flooding in towns and villages along main rivers in Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Going by the numbers of people affected, the disaster is worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined, the U.N. says. But international aid for those disasters came at a more rapid pace, aid experts say.
Ten days after the Kashmir quake, donors gave or pledged $292 million, according to the aid group Oxfam. The Jan. 12 disaster in Haiti led to pledges nearing $1 billion within the first 10 days.
For Pakistan, the international community gave or pledged $150 million after the flooding began in earnest in late July, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA.
U.N. officials on Wednesday launched a formal appeal for $460 million for immediate relief and have said the country will need billions more to rebuild after the floodwaters recede.
OCHA spokesman Nicholas Reader said that of the $310 million still needed, the U.N. received $93 million with an additional $32 million pledged.
The United States has donated the most, at least $70 million, and has sent military helicopters to rescue stranded people and drop of food and water. Washington hopes the assistance will help improve its image in the country — however marginally — as it seeks its support in the battle against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said humanitarian organizations in Pakistan are working around the clock to deliver lifesaving assistance to at least 6 million people in need, but that far more funding is required to provide help quickly. He said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was planning a trip to Pakistan to inspect the damage.
“The international recognition of this disaster has not yet been sufficient to its dimensions,” U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke told the Council on Foreign Relations. “That is because floods, unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, are not sudden catastrophes that hit and then the reconstruction begins. They’re rolling crises, which grow and are initially underestimated.”