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In Pakistan, pledged donations aren't enough

Opinion: Donors slow to recognize huge magnitude of floods.

Pakistan floods
Pakistani villagers displaced from their homes by flooding make their way through flood waters on Aug. 23 in Punjab. Officials say as many as 20 million people have been affected during Pakistan's worst flooding in 80 years. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistan floods have affected more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake put together.

Over the past three weeks, as the world has begun slowly to comprehend the scale of the disaster, government donors and the general public have stepped forward with increasing generosity. But the United Nations appeal for Pakistan remains less than 60 percent funded. Substantial additional amounts have been pledged — but pledges don’t buy clean water or sanitation.

Total commitments so far amount to less than half a billion dollars, or less than $30 per affected person. After the 2005 earthquake, the international community committed more than $2 billion in the first month — $570 per person affected. So why do we still have so far to go this time around?

It may be that we’re seeing some Pakistan fatigue. Pakistan has in recent years been hit by one disaster after another — an earthquake, floods and an internal conflict that last year forced more than 3 million people to flee their homes. In the northwest, many of the communities affected by the floods were only just beginning to rebuild their lives after having been displaced by fighting between the Pakistani military and militant groups in 2008 and 2009.

Many donors have already given substantial assistance to these communities, and perhaps feel they’ve done their bit. But the fact that many of the worst affected communities have been devastated time and again is more of a reason to give. Already vulnerable prior to the floods, they simply do not have the resources to recover from the crisis on their own.

The disaster has also come at an unfortunate time. Donor governments, many still reeling from the financial crisis, responded with extraordinary generosity to the Haiti earthquake earlier this year — contributing more than $1 billion in the first month. Some have perhaps found it difficult to fund two major disasters in such quick succession.

And it seems hard to believe, but there’s a lively discussion amongst potential supporters as to whether they should support a country they believe to be associated with militancy. Governments and institutional donors presumably know better: few countries have suffered more from violent extremism than Pakistan, where violence has for years blighted the lives of millions of Pakistanis.

But it does seem that this awful misperception — that the more than 15 million Pakistanis whose lives have been torn apart by the floods are less deserving of our assistance because of the presence of militants in their country — may indeed have affected private giving.