Who cares about Pakistan?

By Jude Sheerin
BBC News

  • Published

Donations have been sluggish to the Pakistan floods appeals, as they were back in 2005 when the part of Kashmir the country administers was torn apart by an earthquake. The BBC News website asked some experts to comment on possible reasons why.

Donor fatigue

Dr Marie Lall, Pakistan expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, says: "I think there is donor fatigue all around. The [2004] Indian Ocean tsunami, the Burmese Cyclone [Nargis, 2008], the [2005] Pakistan earthquake, and [this year's] Haiti earthquake. It is getting too much; we are in a recession and people are short of money."

Image caption,
Is there a limit to our emotional response to images of suffering?

Rebecca Wynn, Pakistan specialist for UK-based aid agency Oxfam, says: "Many donors have made substantial contributions in humanitarian assistance to Pakistan over the years, particularly in response to the conflict-related displacements over the last two years. Of course, the fact that the people of Pakistan have been hit time and again by disaster is even more reason to give."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution, a foreign policy think tank, says: "It should also be noted that the international humanitarian system isn't set up to deal with more than one major crisis a year. USAID, for example, committed one-third of its annual budget to the Haitian earthquake response. And among the general public there may be a feeling of, 'Well, I donated to the victims of the Haitian earthquake and Haiti is a far needier country than Pakistan.'"


Yale University economics professor Dean Karlan, an expert on charitable giving, says: "Corruption concerns may explain why giving is lower to developing countries than many would like it to be, but it does not explain why there is less money pouring into Pakistan now than does to disaster relief causes in other developing countries with similar governance issues."

Dr Marie Lall says: "People in Pakistan are sceptical the government will be transparent. But they are giving to philanthropic organisations. In the UK, I think people are sceptical of [non-governmental organisations'] overheads and costs. They don't know which ones are transparent and reliable, even though local organisations such as TCF [The Citizens' Foundation] are doing an incredible job."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "People are always sceptical about their money reaching flood victims, particularly in countries with reputations for corruption. But Haiti didn't have a very good reputation in this regard. [Pakistan] President [Asif Ali] Zardari trip to Europe [during the floods] was not a good move. For a few days, that was the 'story' of the Pakistani floods, which doesn't inspire people to be generous, particularly in this economic climate."


Dr Marie Lall says: "British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments in India [when he said Islamabad promoted the export of terror] did not help."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "People are less likely to donate to any country seen as a haven for terrorism. And more generally, the fact that so much Western news coverage in recent years about Pakistan has been negative, stressing its links with the conflict in Afghanistan. I think this is the major reason for the slow public response - the image of Pakistan in our media. There may also be a feeling, particularly in the US, that Islamic governments and charities should be stepping up to the plate to donate."


Rebecca Wynn says: "This disaster has come at a bad time, following the financial crisis and the Haiti earthquake. Many donors made huge commitments to Haiti, so may find it hard to fund another major disaster, particularly in the same year."

Dr Marie Lall says: "Timing may be a factor, but I think it's more to do with not realising the scale of the disaster, and the attitude by the British government; the UK should be leading the aid effort, given the Pakistani diaspora here and the fact that we need Pakistan for the war in Afghanistan."

'Wrong' disaster

Professor Dean Karlan says: "Sudden events seem to generate more funds. A flood (and droughts) happen gradually and build. There isn't any one single day in which news is huge. For the same reason, this pushes the story away from the media spotlight. But massive and sudden earthquakes or tsunamis draw our immediate attention and shock us."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "It's important to note that in general people are likely to give more to emergencies occurring in countries geographically closer to them - although this didn't hold true for the tsunami. But when you trace contributions over time, you find that Americans and Canadians are more likely to respond to disasters in the Western hemisphere while Europeans tend to be more responsive to African countries (and their former colonies, in particular)."

Dr Marie Lall says: "This was not one cataclysmic event, but one which grew over three weeks. The fact that 25% of the country was or is under water is not understood. The low numbers of dead, relatively speaking, mask the disaster on the ground. The crisis has destroyed crops, dead livestock and damaged homes and infrastructure. Food prices are through the roof and there won't be a normal harvest. It will get worse. Farmers will starve."

BBC website readers have been sending in their views. Here are some of their comments.

A lot of people I know feel that some of the very wealthy Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia etc) should step in and help those who are their religious brethren rather than always expecting the currently cash strapped countries who always give to keep on giving. Donor fatigue of some type but more that we are fatigued with always being the ones expected to help. Also celebrities such as Bono and Bob Geldof are always banging on about how we should give our money when if they each gave 50% of their money, a lot of help could be given. Fleur, Devon, UK

I believe donations from the West will perk up when we read that it has been confirmed that Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia have donated sizeable sums. I read this morning that India, traditionally Pakistan's 'enemy' , has offered help, but no news of similar offers of help from Muslim countries. C Burns, Longfield, UK

I don't think it's necessary to donate any money to Pakistan because there's enough money - and support - available within the Islamic community (particularly from the oil-rich Gulf states and Saudi Arabia). The Saudis spend millions of petro-dollars every year to help get mosques built all over the world. I'm sure the Saudis alone could fund the whole recovery of their Islamic compatriots in Pakistan, particularly as they employ so many guest workers from Pakistan. However, I'm pleased to see that the Pakistan government have accepted aid from India. I am supporting the Haitian appeal - these desperate people don't have the support of wealthy Islamic countries. Rupert Templeman, Bournemouth, Dorset, UK

Pakistan has a long history of corruption and military rule. People of Pakistan have been suffring in general from a lack of basic necessities. After 65 years of independence it is still under developed due to bad management. The most likely reason for the slow response for help, I believe, is due to its links to terrorism. Bhupendra Shah, North Bergen New Jersey, USA

There are many good explanations as to why aid has been slow to trickle into Pakistan given the sheer extent of the disaster. However, next to Israel, Pakistan has probably the worst international image around right now. Pakistan is unfortunately associated with Afghanistan, Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Another important dynamic not quite appreciated is that there is a significant Pakistan-rooted diaspora worldwide in many Western countries and richer Arab Gulf countries. After 9/11 there has been significant tension and unease between the Pakistan-based communities and the host countries, due to the perceived 'homegrown' terror threat. Therefore, in the West, I think the dynamic of negative views towards Pakistanis amongst their communities rather than just a negative view of the nation is at play. Raja Mohammed, Surrey, UK

Donations have been sluggish I think because Pakistan spends billions on its military and yet cries out for help because of a natural disaster. Their government needs to sort its priorities out. Yvette, Kent, UK

This is a civilised country with nuclear power and missiles. A monsoon season comes every year. It's no volcano, no earthquake, and not a one-off natural disaster. Chris Jeffery, Odessa, Ukraine

If they can afford to be a nuclear country and boast about it, then they should be able to look after their own people. Ohanes, UK

Apart from various reasons given, there is the perception that historically the Pakistani government and politicians have deliberately misdirected aid for humanitarian causes to other channels like in military projects. Obviously people and foreign governments somehow lack trust in Pakistan. Satya S Issar, Wraysbury, Staines, UK

I think the fact that Pakistan has spent great sums on nuclear weapons aimed at India instead of preparing for catastrophic monsoons is one part of the explanation why donations are so low. The rest of the world has run out of sympathy for Pakistan. Fredrik Andersson, Gothenburg, Sweden

These "experts" are so far from the mark it's hard to believe. Countries like India and Pakistan are not poor - any country that can fund a nuclear program and have the massive armed forces they have, should be able to look after themselves. Plus there's the ex-pat factor - there's a large community in the UK who think of themselves as Pakistanis first and they will be giving through other ways and means. Tony, Leeds, UK

It is very interesting to see how much fellow Muslim countries are giving in aid, if anything at all. The mega rich Arab oil states have given very little, apart from Saudi Arabia who has donated $40 million or so - which is not a lot considering how wealthy they are. A J Wawn, Bedford, UK

Any country that sends its top politician on a jolly around Europe and insists on wasting money on nuclear weapons in my opinion has money enough to look after its own. James, Cheshire, UK

Lack of media coverage and lack of heart-wrenching stories. It's all very much 'another day in Pakistan'. It needs/needed to be the first and main news story on every news channel, with numbers for people to understand the scale - e.g.,number of cattle or other animals dead, as a proportion of the number needed by the country. Satellite images detailing the flooding perhaps. The news story currently lacks 'drama'. I give regularly to charities and causes such as this but even I didn't fully appreciate the scale until this week. Loz, UK

When the Pakistani government chooses to spend their revenue funding nuclear weapons and maintaining the sixth largest armed forces in the world they have no right to plead poverty when the monsoon is heavier than normal. Haiti were already one of the poorest countries in the world when an unforeseeable earthquake hit them - they deserve charitable giving. It is hard to feel the same way about Pakistan. Dave Fulton, Seaham, UK

The 'elephant in the room' is that Pakistan is not a 'popular' country, because of its negative associations with terrorism. People may also feel negatively towards poor, developing countries which spend billions on arms, including nuclear weapons. C Matthews, Birmingham, UK

While acknowledging the floods exist, the problem is that there are simply too many people living in a flood plain. They chose to live there. The good times were good. This is a bad time. We should make provision in the good times (for the bad will always come - nature's like that). If there were fewer people, there would be more food to go round, more space on higher ground, and the aid agencies would have an easier task. It's a basic problem. Haiti was similar. C A Turner, Salisbury, UK

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