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Archive for Saturday, August 28, 2010

American public responds tepidly to Pakistan floods

August 28, 2010

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Pakistani flood survivors look out from their makeshift tent Friday after fleeing their village in Sajawal near Hyderabad, Pakistan.

Pakistani flood survivors look out from their makeshift tent Friday after fleeing their village in Sajawal near Hyderabad, Pakistan.

— Americans are giving a paltry amount for relief efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan compared to other overseas disasters. They were more than 40 times more generous for the Haiti earthquake.

Reasons include the slow-motion nature of the calamity, relatively scant TV coverage, and — unmistakably — the fact that the strategic Muslim ally is viewed warily by many Americans.

No disasters are alike. Yet a month into Pakistan’s flood catastrophe, with 8 million people in dire need and a fifth of its territory affected, the donation comparisons are startling.

InterAction, an umbrella group for U.S. relief agencies active abroad, says its affiliates have raised about

$12 million thus far for Pakistan, compared with more than $500 million at the same stage of the Haiti earthquake relief effort earlier this year.

The American Red Cross, traditionally the biggest recipient of disaster relief donations, has collected about $2 million for Pakistan and is dipping into a contingency fund to support its work there. At the same stage, it had raised about $100 million in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, more than $670 million for Hurricane Katrina and about $230 million for the Haiti quake.

“People find it complicated to understand our relationship with Pakistan — how the government works, who to trust,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which has been tracking the donations.

“It was easier to look at a place like Haiti and know a quick response was needed,” she said.

In Haiti and the nations hit by the tsunami, the devastation’s scope was apparent immediately to anyone who saw the graphic images on television. In each case, the death toll surpassed 200,000.

Pakistan’s floods, in contrast, worsened over a period of days — and the outside world was relatively slow in realizing the scope of the catastrophe in a country already racked by the Taliban insurgency. The flood death toll, estimated at 1,500, is viewed by some experts as misleadingly small given the scale of the dislocations and the long-term damage to Pakistani society.

“Fortunately, the death toll is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti,” said David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross. “The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti.”

The disaster unfolded at a time when many Americans were on vacation, aloof from breaking news. And initial TV coverage of the floods was not as extensive as for the tsunami or Haiti quake, according to charity experts who say that likely diminished donations.

Zeeshan Suhail, a Pakistani-American who serves on the board of New York City’s Muslim Consultative Network, is convinced that donations from non-Muslims are lagging because many Americans view Pakistan as a haven for terrorists. The controversy over a proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site has worsened matters, he suggested.

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