Meanwhile, In Pakistan, The Floods Continue To Worsen
While American politics concerns itself with trivial issues, Pakistan finds itself dealing with a devastating natural disaster that could have real geo-political implications.
As Dave Schuler noted on Friday, Pakistan has been dealing with record-breaking flooding for the past three weeks. Today, in fact, there are reports of a new round of evacuations in the face of a threatened flood surge, and the nation is just now starting to contemplate the devastating economic impact of the disaster:
The floods in Pakistan continue to roll south towards the sea, leaving behind a trail of destruction, the magnitude of which is still not fully clear.
The government has asked the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to carry out damage assessments which officials say will take a month.
Meanwhile, experts have tried to put together a rough picture of economic losses, and many warn there may be huge social costs as well.
But while the scale of the calamity is monumental, the response of the international community has been lukewarm.
This is causing concern, both in government circles and among civil society.
And, at least among some flood victims, there seems to be growing anger toward the international community in general, and the United States in particular:
Displaced people are camping everywhere. Shelters of canvas and plastic sheeting line the edges of the highways linking Islamabad to Peshawar in the north-west of the country.
The roads are raised, a precious strip of dry land in a sea of stagnant floodwater and thick mud.
I stopped at one makeshift camp and a group of men rushed forward as soon as I got out of the car, crowding round.
One was a thin-faced man in his 40s called Iftikhar.
He pointed to the swamped ground beyond the railway tracks and the remains of his village. His house had been badly damaged, he said.
Even though the waters were starting to recede, it was too unstable for him to move back there with his six daughters.
We desperately need help from the government, so we can rebuild,” he told me.
The US is spending $5bn a month on the war in Afghanistan – that puts into context what they’re giving us”
He rolled back a sleeve and showed me the skin rash on his arm. “Everyone is in a bad state,” he said. “If we don’t get money, I don’t know what will happen to us.”
Others chimed in around him. Many sounded miserable and frustrated.
They were getting some food, they said, but their community had been knocked back about 25 years.
Sugar and flour was not enough – they needed new houses, new possessions, new books and supplies in the local school to replace everything they had lost.
Some criticised the government, saying the aid was not fairly distributed.
Others blamed the West, including the US, for failing to give enough help.
One man turned his anger on me: “What about your country?” he said, heatedly. “Why aren’t you giving more?”
Flood survivors walk amid debris in Nowshera on 17 August 2010 Some say their communities have been knocked back about 25 years
Elsewhere in the small camp, businessmen were handing out donations from the local community.
If there was not more support, they said, the security situation might worsen.
There has been fighting already in the camps, said one.
“We’re doing so much to help the United States in the war on terrorism. Now we’re in crisis and we expect help,” said one of the businessman donors.
His colleague agreed: “Now’s the time for them to prove their commitment to us.”
The reality, of course, is that the United States is at the forefront of the relief efforts and recently upped the amount committed to flood relief to $ 150,000,000 and, as Dave noted in his post on Friday, the U.S. has done this before, such as during the recovery from the devastating 2005 earthquake:
In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake U. S. Marine helicopters carried aid to Pakistanis, the United States gave more than $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, and for the better part of a year the U. S. Navy was the primary healthcare provider across an enormous swathe of the country. There’s a summary of aid rendered by the U. S. military here. The Washington Post suggested at the time that the aid would improve “the U. S. image” in Pakistan. Although the aid materialized the improvement in our image didn’t.
And the report noted above would seem to indicate that it hasn’t improved much in those five years. At the same time, though, I’m not sure that it matters. Whether we get the credit for it or not, assisting in a humanitarian crisis is something that only the United States can do on a large scale anymore and, when there are entire areas of the country that remain cut off from the outside world, it’s fairly clear that only American military equipment will be able to deliver aid to the people who need it.
I share Dave’s concerns that the aid itself might not ultimately get to the people who need it, but it would seem there’s a far greater danger in doing nothing and allowing a nation like Pakistan to slip even further into chaos than it already has over the past decade.
Photo Credit: BBC