Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Why donations have been slow to the Pakistan disaster

The news has been full lately of analysis of why many sources have been slow to donate to the Pakistan flood disaster. To be fair, the UK general public has been generous with over £30 million given already, but apparently worldwide, giving is lower than expected.

Speculation in the media has been about the assertion that a flood seems less of a disaster than an earthquake (say) because it happens slowly and the thought of 'a bit of water' isn't as distressing as 'the earth open up and shifting.' Another possibility I have heard is that the TV reports haven't been showing enough close-ups of people, concentrating instead on sweeping shots of flood water where people appear small on the screen. The theory is this prevents personalization of the disaster, and if we think of it as impersonal, we don't identify. It's the same reason that many charities will tell you individuals' stories, rather than give the whole picture.

I think there is one piece of reasoning they've missed. It's false reasoning, but I can't help but feel it is influencing people. Is it so unlikely that some people and organizations are thinking 'If a country has enough money to spend billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, why do we need to help them?' I can imagine it being considered a bit like seeing a beggar, bedecked in Cartier diamonds.

There are a couple of reasons this is a false argument. Firstly, the disaster is on such a large scale that even a rich country couldn't cope without external help. Remember how the US struggled with New Orleans, which was tiny by comparison. Secondly, the weapons aren't evidence of riches, but rather of spending far too much on something unnecessary and then having even less left for the essentials. Reprehensible of the government, certainly, but it doesn't help the people in trouble. And unlike the Cartier diamonds, the weapons can't be sold to raise cash.

Just to emphasize my position - it is essential we give to the Pakistan appeal. If you haven't already, why not head over to the DEC website and donate now? But I feel the media are missing something in their analysis of the international response.


  1. And the nuclear weapons are, to Pakistan, more than a luxury. Their neighbour, India, who they have some territorial disputes with also have nuclear weapons.

    The ironic thing is that what brought Pakistan and India to the negotiating table over Kashmir was when they both had nuclear weapons. It's been a more peaceful region since then!

  2. So far not mentioned here, but another reason why people are slow to give money to Pakistan is Taliban.

    Pakistan has plenty of extremists, and many in Pakistan (including ISI) also help the Afghanistan Taliban. They do things like capturing and beheading aid workers. Or kill or maim girls that go to school. Etc. In such a situation, it is understandable that people do not feel they can help. Pakistan is extremely corrupt, so using money effectively is a problem.

    Monetary aid may actually end up being spent for weapons to extremists. You cannot send people to help, because they are physically threatened.

    So, there is a similar reaction as with the military intervention in Afghanistan: they cause is good and justified, but people don't trust it helps any, and it's dangerous, so they will skip it.

    When you mention that "UK public" donates a lot of money to Pakistan, you should notice that the public in other European countries appears to donate less. Why? Because there are more people of Pakistani descent in the UK.

    Quite naturally, people who have relatives in the affected area, or people whose nice, decent neighbours come from that area, feel more connected with the disaster and feel they can and should help.

  3. The question has also been raised of why British people should contribute when wealthy Muslim countries are not doing their bit. (I have no idea whether this is a fair argument, but the question has certainly been raised).