Time is running out for tens of thousands of survivors of the 7.6 earthquake that devastated parts of Pakistan on Oct. 8, claiming more than 73,000 lives and leaving 3 million homeless. Winter is fast approaching. Experts believe 1 million people are at risk of hypothermia. Two hundred thousand villagers in more remote areas may soon be cut off by snow. A “second wave” of deaths from cold, hunger, and disease is feared.
Time is also running out for the international community to respond in a way that is befitting a disaster of this magnitude. Of the $550 million the United Nations called for in its “flash appeal,” only $119 million, or 22 percent, has been received. Contrast this with the overwhelming international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck last December. The UN’s emergency appeal was more than 80 percent financed within days of the disaster. Since then, an estimated $13.6 billion has been raised internationally, some 92 countries have provided assistance, and the overall response to the tsunami is emerging as an exemplary story in disaster relief and recovery.
What explains this striking difference between the global response to the tsunami and to the earthquake?
First, extensive media coverage and the presence of many foreigners ensured that the tsunami received high-level and private attention on the part of donors (some 2,500 tourists from more than 40 countries were killed). In the case of the earthquake, those living in the region—Pakistanis, Kashmiris, and Indians—bore the full brunt of the catastrophe.
Second, the tsunami-impacted areas were relatively easy to reach by sea, even though the area affected across the Indian Ocean was huge. In particular, the United States and others could send in major naval units, bringing in urgently needed relief and medical supplies. In Pakistan, the only way of reaching the most devastated areas is by helicopter, making the provision of relief supplies, including desperately needed winterized tents, a logistical nightmare.
Finally, earthquake relief efforts are suffering from “donor fatigue,” including in the US which gave generously first to the tsunami and, more recently, to the hurricanes that hit the southeastern US.
A just-concluded assessment by the World Bank says Pakistan will need approximately $5.2 billion to effectively implement a relief, recovery, and reconstruction plan. Of this, $3.5 billion will be needed for rebuilding housing, schools, health facilities, roads, and other public infrastructure—an effort that will take up to five years.
But first Pakistan’s survivors will need to get through the winter and the global community must do more to assist them. An international donor’s conference now scheduled for Nov. 19 in Islamabad will provide that opportunity. The US, which has called on Pakistan for its assistance on many occasions in the past, should play a leading role.
To date the US has made $156 million available to Pakistan for relief and reconstruction needs. The US military is playing a key role as well. A Navy construction battalion is helping to clear roads; Army helicopters have flown over a thousand missions to deliver aid to isolated communities and to transport injured people for medical treatment. Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf, says these Chinook helicopters have become “a household name and everyone knows that the United States has provided this aid.”
At the Nov. 19 conference, the US should pledge to raise its level of assistance to $500 million and urge other international donors to follow its example by substantially boosting their aid. Currently, Pakistan has received help from 50 nations.
Every effort should be made to match this increase in official US aid with donations from the American private sector. Again, the tsunami response experience is instructive. US charitable giving of $1.7 billion almost doubled the amount of Washington’s official aid package of $900 million.
President Bush clearly had this example of citizen generosity in mind when he recently announced the creation of the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund, which will be led by five American business CEOs—from General Electric, Pfizer, Citigroup, Xerox, and United Parcel Service. Several of these leaders traveled to Pakistan in advance of Saturday’s conference and will return, in the president’s words, “to rally our citizens to help the victims of this disaster.” May those who are suffering from disaster relief donor fatigue, both at home and abroad, quickly get a second wind.