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.