Pakistan Floods: Why are The Donations So Low?

Pakistan was hit with a tragedy in late July of this year. The floods have left millions homeless and caused massive devastation. International aid agencies are hoping to prevent an outbreak of water borne diseases. U.N. and U.S. officials declared the Pakistan flooding to be worse than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. Yet, the donations made to Pakistan are disappointing lower compared to any of the recent disasters in history.

I first noticed the unusually slow reaction to Pakistan floods on Facebook newsfeed. Remember how our online world responded to the earthquake in Haiti? Or even the 2008 Mumbai bombings? I have friends, who volunteered to work in Haiti and live under harsh conditions. But I detected that just a handful of people on Facebook talked about the disaster in Pakistan or urged others to donate.

Intrigued by the online behavior I started to ask around. I wanted to know if people had sent money to Pakistan. Or if they even intended to. It’s been a few weeks, and I haven’t even heard ten positive answers.

So, why the poor donation? I can understand why Indians, not Indian-Americans, didn’t want to send any money to Pakistan. There is a bitter history between the two countries and a complete lack of trust. Even Pakistan initially refused to accept any financial aid from the Indian government. Most Indians I spoke with (both in India and the US) feared that Pakistan would use their money to proliferate terrorism in India. They empathized with the poor in Pakistan but lacked faith in the country’s government.

But it’s not just Indians, is it? The international community over all has responded differently this time. Every now and then you see articles focused on humanitarianism, but how many minds has that changed?

Why just question the west or India; how much money has the Middle East sent to the evacuees? I read an article about many Pakistani-Americans being wary of sending money to their homeland.

The media has reiterated that the evacuees practice Sufism, not Wahabism (an austere form of Islam that Osama Bin laden and Taliban follow). But according to an article in the New York Times, polls conducted by CNN showed that 78 percent of Americans hold mostly “unfavorable” views of Pakistan. The same article talks about a similar poll conducted by Gallop in 2010 with 47 percent of respondents saying “they were mostly negative on Pakistan,” while 24 percent said “they held “very” negative views of that country.”

Why is there such little empathy for Pakistan? After all, there are innocent human lives at stake. More will die if nothing is done. Does Pakistan really have the wrong image in the eyes of the world? Or is it donor fatigue? Is it the recession? Is it the type of disaster? I don’t have answers, but I am definitely curious.