In July, the worst floods in the nation’s recorded history washed over Pakistan after unprecedented and unrelenting monsoonal rainfall. This serious natural disaster has exceeded the devastation and loss of the 2004 tsunami as well as the 2009 Haiti earthquake. 20 million Pakistanis are homeless and six million people are completely dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. Despite the unfathomable scale of this disaster, the international media response, monetary and aid donations and public awareness and empathy for those affected has been significantly lower than that elicited from other natural disasters.
Why has the plight of Pakistan failed to capture the attention of various governments and people from all over the world? The Red Cross’ World Disasters Report 2005 found a direct correlation between the level of media coverage and the amount of disaster relief donated – a finding that rings true in relation to the recent Pakistani floods. For a disaster of this magnitude, media coverage worldwide has been minimal, which has equated into insufficient levels of aid reaching the flood stricken nation and its millions of displaced peoples.
Identifying the barriers to an appropriate international response to the crisis can help rectify the issue, and make sure that Pakistan receives the donations it needs to rebuild its society. Here are some of the potential obstacles to public engagement with the crisis.
– Slow nature of the disaster. The monsoonal rainfall and subsequent flooding that occurred in Pakistan happened over a period of days. Due to the drawn out nature of the disaster (as opposed to the immediacy of the Haiti earthquake), the devastation was not instantly apparent. Graphic pictures of destruction illicit a stronger response from international communities. Such pictures and coverage did not emerge, and as such, the disaster became peripheral news.
– Suspicion of where the funds will go. Pakistan’s political instability and the menaces of the Taliban insurgency have created suspicion over whether donated funds will be allocated appropriately. Reports have suggested that this mistrust of correct use of donations has impacted governments’ willingness to contribute aid.
– Portrayal of and prejudice against Pakistanis. Local interests drive media portrayal and public empathy. Pakistanis, particularly in American media, are often portrayed as extremists, violent, or terrorists. Pakistan is a large and diverse population. Despite only a small subset of extremists and a majority of citizens – from farmers to lawyers – who wish to live in peace, this reality is often forgotten. Prejudice against civilian Pakistanis, therefore, and the weariness with which they are viewed by the Western world has impacted the public’s willingness to donate funds.
It is crucial that the deficient donations and assistance to Pakistan in the face of this catastrophe be rectified. Americans were forty times more generous in their donations to Haiti than they have been towards Pakistan, despite the higher level of devastation in the latter disaster. The level of destruction will mean a long and slow recovery for Pakistan. Any donations, whether through Pakistan Flood Donation funds or other traditional methods such as child sponsorship will help rebuild a devastated nation. While the disaster may not have been focused on by the media, it is worthy of international and government attention.