Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

Exploiting the Flood

With a humanitarian crisis in Pakistan which dwarfs the combined devastation of the 2004 Asian tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the lack of media attention that the flooding has received is surprising. Whereas the destruction wrought by the Haitian earthquake, for example, brought millions of dollars in donations as well as public campaigns by prominent American figures to raise money for Haiti’s reconstruction, the latest humanitarian crisis in Pakistan has brought little of the same sympathy or support. Western media outlets are barely covering the story, and donations — both by Western governments and by private citizens — have been far more meager than with past natural disasters of this scale.

Mosharraf Zaidi, writing in Foreign Policy, makes the argument — which strikes me as relatively accurate — that the reason that Western attention to this crisis has been so limited is simply because Pakistan is no one’s friend these days. And thus no one really cares.

…the main reason that Pakistan isn’t receiving attention or aid proportionate to the devastation caused by these floods is because, well, it’s Pakistan. Given a catastrophe of such epic proportions in any normal country, the world would look first through a humanitarian lens. But Pakistan, of course, is not a normal country. When the victims are Haitian or Sri Lankan — hardly citizens of stable, well-government [sic] countries, themselves — Americans and Europeans are quick to open their hearts and wallets. But in this case, the humanity of Pakistan’s victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country.

Attention to the crisis has been heavily focused on the security angle. The dominant narrative regarding Western aid is that Pakistani extremist groups are gaining influence by controlling the aid distribution process, and that the West should thus increase its own aid distribution in order to counter these radicals. John Kerry, for example, visiting the region last week, mimicked this line of thinking: “Miles upon miles of destroyed homes, of people dislocated, people in camps in great heat, losing their possessions, growing frustrated, worried about the future. We need to address that, all of us rapidly, to avoid their impatience boiling over or people exploiting that impatience.”

But note how this narrative obscures the humanitarian angle, and downplays the notion that governments have a responsibility to assist peoples beyond their borders. Our aid policy in the wake of this crisis should largely be constructed and justified based on a notion of shared humanity — not merely on a narrow assessment of American interests. That Pakistanis are suffering and desiring of international aid should be enough to warrant our attention, our dollars, and our support.

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4 Comments

  1. While I agree with the argument that preconceived ideas about Pakistan are an obstacle to a reasonable aid policy, I too am skeptical about simply extending support to such countries. It's not doing anything to mitigate the effects of the next disaster, which always follows. What underdeveloped countries need are investments in infrastructure and better economic institutions. In my view, just handing out money draws the attention away from such important matters and conditions depency. I mean, look at some African countries; they're not even trying to do anything anymore, in many cases it's just apathy and hoping for foreign aid.

  2. This totally showcases the discrimination policy of western world towards their eastern side, specially third world countries.

  3. Sepoy handled this quite elegantly at Chapati Mystery.

  4. Good grief.

    "That Pakistanis are suffering and desiring of international aid should be enough to warrant our attention, our dollars, and our support."

    Good luck cashing checks written in the currency of "should".

    Let's suppose some in the U.S. are tempted to contribute to flood relief because they think it would serve U.S. security interests. Would you advise them not to contribute on that basis? Would it be better for everyone if flood victims were to refuse aid from anyone who contributes for reasons other than the fact that the victims are suffering and "desiring" of aid?

    Pull your head out of your ideology and work every prevailing narrative to get these people aid.