Half a world away - suffering and slow response in Pakistan

Posted on September 30, 2010 by Veronica Taylor

Pakistan is literally a half a world away from Florida, and yet the few images we’ve seen of the Pakistani flood victims are heart gripping.

Recall the image of a woman alone, walking the highest point in a muddy path, her head bowed, her face frozen in despair. The mud-covered dress she wears is literally her only remaining possession. Or, the image of the father and his young son, digging through the meager, buried remains of their former home, desperately looking for anything to salvage.

These images remind us of the survivors in Haiti, or even of tornado victims here in the United States. The point is that each of these images shows us a living, surviving person whose life is in ruins. We connect with each of these images in a very personal way.

Complex conditions slow relief efforts

The relief effort in Pakistan is overwhelmed not only by the scope of the disaster, but also by the tangle of political and foreign policy issues that are slowing the response to the huge scale of human suffering. This disaster is unique in many respects.

The rains continued, so the scope of the disaster continued to widen.

The ability of relief efforts is severely hampered by the condition of the roads (what roads remain).

The huge challenge is just reaching people in need.  We’ve heard reports of survivors climbing trees and trying to eat the leaves just to live for a few more hours.

The political controversies surrounding Pakistan and its government have also limited responses to this disaster. There are those who say that the Pakistani government cannot be trusted to deliver aid to victims, that corruption will overwhelm the relief effort.  Pakistan is a country that can generate strong reactions and some people who would normally give to a relief effort may be reluctant to do so, simply because the disaster occurred in Pakistan.

Global disaster fatigue

You have no doubt heard discussions on radio shows about other obstacles to getting effective relief to Pakistani victims. Many callers talk about “disaster fatigue,” and say that they have little emotional reserve or cash available to give, based on their responses to other disasters this year.

If our community were struck by a disaster, we’d not want “disaster fatigue,” or mistrust of the United States to become obstacles to the relief effort. In fact, individuals, governments and organizations around the world have responded to our most recent “local” disaster, the Gulf Oil Spill.

Colleagues at the Israel Trauma Center sent this to me via e-mail:  “As we have followed coverage of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we have been thinking of you and your work in focusing on how communities and individuals respond to this particular type of disaster, which we appreciate has significant long term socioeconomic impact for communities from Louisiana to Florida.”

Many reputable international organizations are working to respond to the disaster in Pakistan:  International Rescue Committee, UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, Red Cross, Oxfam, to name just a few.

Consider doing whatever you can to help that mud-soaked woman and literally millions like her who have had their homes and families ripped away from them in perhaps the worst floods in Pakistan’s history.  We really are, after all, neighbors on this little planet.

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