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Who will help Pakistan?

When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a public appeal for money to help the 14 million Pakistanis affected by record flooding, she received a miserly $ 12,000. compare this to the Haiti earthquake.

world Updated: Aug 14, 2010 23:16 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad and Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Imtiaz Ahmad and Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times

When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a public appeal for money to help the 14 million Pakistanis affected by record flooding, she received a miserly $ 12,000. compare this to the Haiti earthquake. A flash appeal saw the United Nations alone reach its $ 577 million target in a month. The UN's ReliefWeb estimates it has gotten 18 per cent of what it wants for Pakistan.

While governments have slowly been ponying up funds, the US leading the way with some $ 80 million, individual donations have been almost nonexistent. Such funds constituted the bulk of Haiti's relief – over $ 1.2 billion. In comparison, Pakistan has got barely $ 10 million from individuals.

Recession-affected governments have also been reluctant. But even Saudi Arabia, a Pakistani ally, has given nothing though it donated $ 50 million to Haiti. Islamabad has tried to explain this, even blaming UK Prime Minister David Cameron for his criticism of Pakistan's stance on terrorism.

Pakistan is more likely a victim of three problems:

1. Incompetent Islamabad: Government and aid agencies privately complain Pakistan has yet to properly assess the damage and indicate where help is needed.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has waived this away saying it is too early for all that and the government is still making assessments.

This lack of planning has meant aid flow is chaotic and haphazard. Warm blankets are being distributed in areas where the temperature is unusually hot. Relief camps are receiving the wrong types of medicine. Coordination, even between government agencies, is nonexistent. Aid agencies say the National Disaster Management Authority, headed by an army general, is largely adept at throwing up bureaucratic hurdles.

Private aid agencies say Islamabad has been lacklustre about mobilising money across Pakistan. “For this we blame the government which continues to fumble with relief efforts,” says Muhammad Ilyas, a private philanthropist in Karachi.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has argued state government should be allowed to receive money directly from overseas as they are better able "to get the money across." Frustrated at this administrative mess, the US has indicated it is willing to consider "direct funding" for the badly-affected Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

2. Corruption: Corruption is the single biggest impediment to relief in Pakistan today. It is a major reason for the reluctance of international donors who worry where their money will go. This is true even among Pakistanis. Individual donations to the Prime Minister's Appeal Fund have been disappointing. "People are happier to help out through those they know or organisations they trust," says ex-senator Shafqat Mehmood who has called for funding to be channelled through an independent commission.

These concerns are not without basis. International donors gave the Pakistan government $ 6 billion in aid after the 2005 earthquake. Islamabad promised to spend it on infrastructure and repair more than half-a-million homes. Nothing was done. President Pervez Musharraf promised to use the aid to build a model city for the residents of Balakot, a town levelled by the quake. A ground-breaking ceremony was held right after the disaster. "As the five year anniversary of the disaster approaches, there is little on the ground to show for the money that was received," says a diplomat.

The head of Transparency International Pakistan, Syed Adil Gilani, has said a key reason flood-control infrastructure had proven so inadequate is corruption. His organization estimates 70 per cent of the Federal Flood Commission's budget has been embezzled since its creation in 1977.

3. Image: Pakistan's flood crisis has been poorly served by the media-unfriendly nature of the disaster and the country's reputation as a hub of militancy and terrorism.

The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, pointed out the media problem recently, "People don't relate to a flood the way they do to an earthquake or tsunami which hits, then it's over. The press comes in and does the incredible stories of rescuing people who have survived. Here the press can't get in."

This leads into what many aid agencies won't say in public: Pakistan's reputation for militancy. Privately, they admit this is driving away individual donors. "People want to make sure their money helps others, that it doesn't come back to hurt them," said one individual. Stories about Islamic charities with terrorist connections at the forefront of refugee relief in Pakistan have not helped.

A representative, David Leid, admitted Pakistan's image in the US has been a barrier. "We probably have to admit it does. That would make a difference."

Inputs from Dipankar De Sarkar and Reshma Patil.

First Published: Aug 14, 2010 23:13 IST