Aiding Pakistan proves a challenge

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(Image by Oxfam International (cc:by-nc-nd))

This story was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Aid organizations and the United Nations are calling on the world to provide more help to the millions of Pakistanis affected by recent floods. According to the New York Times, aid groups are struggling to find the necessary shelter, medical supplies, food and clean water needed in the area. As of August 18, only about 1.2 million of the estimated 15 million people affected by the floods had access to clean drinking water.

Organizations like UNICEF are trying to help, but the accompanying funds have not been forthcoming. The current shortfall in UNICEF's funding, according to Executive Director of UNICEF UK David Bull, is about $35 million. Bull told PRI's The World:

There are more people affected by this emergency than the tsunami in 2004, the Haiti earthquake and the earthquake in 2005 in Pakistan, all added together. This is of massive proportions. We've already seen deaths from flooding. The rain is still coming. The situation is still getting worse. And now we're in a race against time to prevent a second wave of deaths, particularly affecting children, from waterborne diseases.

Experts believe that one reason why more aid isn't getting to Pakistan is because of the country's bad reputation. Imtiaz Qadir of the Active Change Foundation told The World, "People who would normally be very, very affected immensely, that we must do something here, are not doing that because they relate that country with terrorism now."

A fear of corruption may also be holding people back from donating to Pakistan. Qadir points out that many in the Pakistani, the British and the American communities don't trust the government to use donations for good. "Everybody's there just to fill their pockets," Qadir said, "and any sort of aid that they ask for will go into their pockets."

Other reasons for the lack of giving may be far beyond Pakistan's control. "Fundraisers know that the end of the summer is one of the worst times for raising money," Daniel Borokoff of the American institute of Philanthropy told The World. People getting back from their vacations, checking their credit card bills and getting ready for back-to-school spending aren't often in the mood for philanthropic giving. And the media may play a part in the lack of interest, too. Comparing the outpouring of giving to Haiti to the relatively paltry response to Pakistan, Borokoff noted, "Flooding doesn't make as interesting of footage as an earthquake that has collapsed buildings and roads and infrastructure."

The consequences of doing nothing, however, could be dire. Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Hussain Qureshi recently warned:

If we do not get the attention, if we do not get the help, I am worried. When people are suffering they do not differentiate from where help is coming. If a person is hungry, if a person is thirsty and you provide water, he would not ask you whether you are a moderate or an extremist, he will grab that water from you and save himself and his children who are starving.

And if extremists are the only people offering aid, that could create huge problems in the future.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."

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