Abdullah, Ahmed, Lowenthal and Lunawat: Help can’t wait

Since July, over 20 million people have been affected by the massive flooding in Pakistan. Close to 1.3 million homes — about the same as the total number of homes in Connecticut — have been completely destroyed. In a country where agriculture provides livelihood to 43 percent of the population and contributes 20.8 percent to an already shaken gross domestic product, more than 17 million hectares of farmland have been inundated.

Yet this humanitarian crisis brought by unprecedented monsoon rains has failed to garner the attention of similar disasters. Only a fraction of the money raised in the wake of the 2005 tsunami or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti has been raised, despite United Nations’ estimates that the number of people suffering from the floods is more than the two combined. So what are people paying attention to instead? Last week, CBS’ Juan Cole, performed a Lexis Nexis search for terms “Pakistan” and “flood,” in broadcast transcripts and found 1100 search results, covering mostly American networks. A search for “New York” and “Mosque” returned 1300 hits, while one for “Lindsay Lohan” returned more than 650.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of theories about why the crisis in Pakistan has not made it onto the news: the proximity of the deluge to other major disasters; the fact that flooding caused devastation gradually rather than in a single, terrible event; the current reputation of Pakistan in the U.S. But ultimately, the question of why the disaster seems to be collectively ignored is far less important than simply understanding the issue at hand: There are people halfway across the world who are desperately in need of food and shelter. There are people whom our dollars would help. The already weakened Pakistani government is in no position to tackle a natural disaster of such a large magnitude (indeed such a disaster would be a challenge for any government), so much of the relief work will done by international aid agencies and charities.

Without more money, this relief work may not be enough. Upon seeing the wreckage last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, said “In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.” On Thursday, U.S. Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbroke echoed this message saying, “I have seen many disasters in my life, but I have never seen this kind of disaster.” He went on to tell the Pakistani government that it needed to find a way to raise tens of billions of dollars.

We can help. We don’t just have to give money — college campuses are not exactly the best places to find wealthy donors. We should become educated and inform those around us. We have a responsibility, as Yale students and as global citizens, to react to crises in the world. Yale students have an excellent tradition of helping wherever and whenever help is needed. Already people are reaching out through fund-raising dinners, study breaks to raise awareness and efforts by individual student organizations, including plans for a benefit concert next weekend. As we get settled with our classes and extracurricular activities and begin remember what it like to do schoolwork again, we should remember to act as responsible citizens of the world and do whatever we could for the situation in Pakistan.

Ahmed Abdullah, Salah Ahmed, Adam Lowenthal and Kunal Lunawat are seniors in Davenport, Saybrook, Timothy Dwight and Branford colleges, respectively. Lunawat is also the former president of the International Students’ Organization.


  • Arafat

    Maybe the answer boils down to common sense. Maybe we’re tired of giving to a corrupt country where we hear and read about how the aid is misdirected not to the people in need, but toward strengthening the corrupt government responsible for the endless cycle of failure.

    After WWII the West created two Marshall Plans which helped turn two destroyed, enemy countries into strong, independent allies. But this approach has never worked with a Muslim country. One can question the motives of the Bush administration regarding their Iraqi policies but it’s clear the Iraqis had no interest in working with us, or in receiving our aid in the way it was intended. Instead they used the aid similarly to the way the corrupt governments in Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt have. Maybe the West is waking up and connecting the dots. Simply put, aid to Islamic countries is used towards supporting a system that fosters the people’s plight and the people’s need for aid. Maybe if the West could bypass the powers that be, and give directly to the people in need, it would be a different story.

    Here’s a short video which I believe helps illustrate what I’m trying to say. It is about the ocean of aid given to the Palestinians and to what effect? Hamas and to support a lavish lifestyle of Arafat’s widow. Not exactly what international aid organizations promised us.


  • Jaymin

    Let’s put this in perspective, Arafat. The money raised through these efforts is NOT going to be transferred to the ISI as a blank check. Individuals countries have sent tangible supplies, like drinking water, food, transport aircraft, and medical supplies. The US government has sent water filtration facilities. Sure, money has also been sent, some directly to the Pakistani government and some to organizations like the Red Cross and Humanity First, but given the political pressure right now, most of it will indeed be spent relatively properly.

    Given the situation, let not play with human lives and withhold aid based on the possibility that some of the money will go unaccounted for.

  • Arafat

    “Given the situation, let not play with human lives and withhold aid based on the possibility that some of the money will go unaccounted for.”
    I wish I was rich as the Saudi Royal family, but I wasn’t lucky enough to find myself sitting on the largest oil reserves in the world (developed with western technology) so I do what I can.

    This means I have to devote my limited charitable money towards causes that I consider most worthy. Charity to the children starved by Muslims in Darfur appeals to me, for instance, or aid to the Buddhists maimed by Muslims in southern Thailand appeals to me, or aid to the Chaldean or Coptic Christians whose lives have been destroyed by Muslims are all charitable causes I find worthwhile.

    I have heard too many stories about donations naively given to Islamic organizations, with the understanding that the aid will go to people in need, only to find out the money goes toward Hamas, or the Taliban instead. I’d rather not take that risk and so I devote my limited charitable dollars to organizations where that risk is non-existent.

  • bwas

    In any developing country where aid is given directly to the government, there is always a risk that the funds will be embezzled. This case is no different and neither is Congo, Swaziland, Thailand etc etc…The YouTube clip posted above by Arafat doesn’t quite specify how the money would be used to provide the various amenities and facilities to the people but I’m pretty sure it’s not through the government. Therefore, the same means that will be used to ensure 650,000 people in Swaziland get ARVs should be used to ensure the millions in Pakistan get food and shelter. Someone cited, material support, which is a great way. I should also add that the materials are not given to the government to dish out(for fear of biased distribution), but to NGOs and all those good people doing work on the ground, with the people.

    Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan are very romantic examples of corrupt states that, in my opinion, are abused to back arguments on how corrupt African states are. Think of states that aren’t so popular in the list of conflict and corruption. Kenya/Uganda/S.A/Botswana/Thailand/Congo will also probably embezzle aid were it to be handed to the men at the top. Grassroot approach ftw!