The Quiet Response To Pakistan's Flood Disaster

20 million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, but there's something strange about the international reaction to the disaster, a phenomenon that Amnesty International USA's Rafia Zakaria calls "a crisis of empathy."

Noting the dramatic impact of the floods, including the deaths of 1600 people, the displacement of millions more, and the threat of cholera and other water-borne diseases, Zakaria points out that the international reaction—particularly the American reaction—has differed greatly from that of recent disasters: "While millions around the globe opened their coffers for the victims of the Asian Tsunami and the Haitian earthquake, few have done so for Pakistan. Hollywood stars, usually quick to rally around victims of humanitarian catastrophe have been eerily silent in coming to the aid of millions of Pakistan's hapless flood victims." Several international aid agencies agree, with Oxfam telling the BBC that the "mega response" needed to handle this "mega disaster" has not happened.

It's hard not to notice that the television response has been slow: there are no all-star benefits taking place, no quickly-shot commercials pleading for assistance. Angelina Jolie, however, has already donated $100,000 (she and Brad Pitt also donated $1 million to Pakistani refugees last summer) and is encouraging others to do the same, but as of right now it seems that Jolie is really the only Hollywood star (thus far) using her celebrity position to draw attention to the issue, which is odd, considering the response other major natural disasters have had over the past few years.

But that very response, particularly the outpouring of support for Haiti, might be one of the reasons behind the lack of donations, as International Rescue Committee Vice President Susan Kotcher tells Crain's New York: "Fundraising has been very slow compared to other emergencies. It feels to us that there is some donor fatigue. The economy is still tight, and people gave what they could for Haiti," and also that "in August people are not as focused on the news." The Seattle Times points out that international relief organization World Vision has had a similar response, bringing in only $255,000 in two weeks for Pakistan relief, as opposed to previous efforts, like a drive for Haitian earthquake relief which brought in $19.5 million.

As Janet I. Tu of the Times explains, "the slow pace of donations is likely due to a number of factors: the recession; the nature of the disaster (floods and slow-building disasters are harder to raise money for); initial scant media coverage; people not realizing the extent of the damage; and Americans' mixed feelings about Pakistan." High-profile organizations such as the United Nations have tried to raise awareness of the disaster over the past few days by warning about the lack of resources, but the response has still been relatively slow. Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton, however, has promised American aid, telling the people of Pakistan: "We will be with you as rivers rise and fall; we will be with you as you re-plant your fields and repair your roads."

It isn't all bad news: Pakistani groups in Montreal say they've seen an increase in fundraising due to a a rise in awareness about the disaster and an effort to organize fundraising groups under one umbrella. Every little bit helps quite a lot, not only toward fundraising efforts, but toward international relations and standing up to our responsibilities as global citizens. As Zakaria notes: "Unless ordinary people around the world donate to come to the aid of the millions waiting for help, Pakistanis will bear the burden of believing that in their gravest hour of need they have been forgotten and ignored."

For those of you interested in learning how to help, the New York Times has compiled a list of organizations involved in relief efforts.

Pakistan's Floods: A Crisis Of Empathy [AmnestyInternational]
Pakistan Flood Disaster Relief: How To Help [TheLede]
Pakistan Flood Response Not Enough [BBC]
Angelina Jolie Donates $100,000 To Pakistan Flood Relief [Houston Chronicle]
Charity Response Muted On Pakistan Floods [Crain's New York Business]
Seattle's Aid Efforts For Pakistan See Slow-Flowing Response [Seattle Times]
Pakistan Flood Aid Inadequate, UN Warns [Miami Herald]
Fundraising For Pakistan Flood Victims Picks Up [Montreal Gazette]
A Jolie-Pitt Million Going To Pakistan [E!]
Hillary Clinton: We Will Stand With Pakistan [BBC]