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  1. World
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13 August 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 5:41am

Why has international aid to Pakistan been so slow?

Making an association between the flood and the war on terror distracts attention from the disaster.

By Samira Shackle

Flood levels in Pakistan are expected to surge even higher along parts of the Indus River in Punjab and Sindh. But as the crisis caused by the worst flooding in the region for 80 years deepens, the international response remains inexplicably slow.

An analysis of UN figures by Oxfam this week shows the shocking disparity between aid contributions to relieve the current flooding and those for past disasters. In the first ten days of the crisis, international donors committed $45m, or about $3.20 per person affected. Compare this to $720m, or $495 per person, after the Haiti earthquake. The response picked up yesterday after the UN said it was appealing for $460m, with $90m raised in a day, but more is urgently needed.

This is disaster on a huge scale. The death toll still stands at 1,600, though with the difficulty in reaching some of the worst-affected areas and counting the dead it is probably far higher. A total of 14 million people have been affected in some way — more than the number affected by the tsunami and the Haiti earthquake put together. An enormous 8 per cent of the population has had its livelihoods directly disrupted.

The situation keeps getting worse. In some areas, aid helicopters are unable to get through because of bad weather. The continued rain means that some people have been displaced several times over. Cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea look ever more likely.

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It is difficult to understand why the response has been so slow. On Radio 4 last night, the Pakistani diplomat Abdullah Hussain Haroon blamed David Cameron’s controversial comments about the country exporting terror:

Pakistan has suffered because of what Mr Cameron has said, because the British people will listen to their Prime Minister.

Certainly the threat of terrorism has permeated discussion of the flood. Several comment pieces, ostensibly urging people to give generously, do so on the grounds that donating will somehow prevent a suicide attack in Britain.

Anatol Lieven writes in the Times (behind paywall):

Aid to Pakistan is clearly a vital British security interest . . .

If Pakistan collapses or parts of its army are driven to mutiny, the threat from that terrorism would increase by orders of magnitude.

Ahmed Rashid concurs in the Telegraph:

Unless major aid is forthcoming immediately and international diplomatic effort is applied to improving Pakistan’s relations with India, social and ethnic tensions will rise and there will be food riots. Large parts of the country that are now cut off will be taken over by the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated extremist groups, and governance will collapse.

There are valid points here: at the moment, in many areas, it is the Taliban or other militant groups who are providing aid on the ground while the overstretched government remains absent. It is important that the effort be stepped up.

But semantically, this does little but associate Pakistan with the nameless, faceless enemy — the “war on terror” — and frame it as a renegade state whose favour must be bought. The thought that these people are just waiting for the chance to strap themselves up with explosives and declare war on the west is hardly going to inspire people to dig deep and give generously.

Far more effective would be to focus on the human tragedy: the two million people displaced, the seven million in direct need of humanitarian assistance for survival, the six million children affected. The west’s security interests should be a by-product of generous and humane aid, not the only motivation.

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