Donations far lower than past crises, warns Oxfam, with India offering no relief at all to historical enemy
The international response to Pakistan‘s flood emergency has been sluggish and ungenerous compared with relief efforts after previous disasters, a leading aid agency said today as the UN warned that its emergency workers were in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis.
Oxfam said the UN’s financial tracking system showed that as of August 9, governments had committed less than $45m, with an additional $91m pledged – considerably less money than was collected for previous disaster relief efforts over a similar period. India, Pakistan’s much larger and wealthier neighbour, has not offered any aid or assistance at all.
“Within the first 10 days of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which left 3.5 million people homeless, the international community had committed $247m and pledged £45m… In the first 10 days of Cyclone Nargis, which affected 2.4 million people when it struck Myanmar [Burma], almost $110m was committed and $109m pledged,” Oxfam said. Likewise, $742m was committed to Haiti and $920m pledged after the earthquake there in January.
About 14 million people have now been affected by the flooding, and about 1,600 people killed. Both figures are expected to rise in the coming days. Pakistan’s federal flood commission estimated that 300,000 homes have been destroyed or seriously damaged so far and 2.6m acres (105,000 sq km) of croplands submerged.
“Six million [of the 14 million affected] are children and 3 million women of child-bearing age. This is a higher figure than in the 2005 south Asia tsunami,” the UN’s humanitarian affairs co-ordination office said.
Neva Khan, Oxfam country director in Pakistan, said: “The rains are continuing and [with] each hour that passes the flooding is multiplying misery across the entire country. This is a mega disaster and it needs a mega response.”
To date, only five countries – Britain, the US, Australia, Italy and Kuwait – have committed or pledged more than $5m in new funding.
“Everyone – donors, the UN, aid agencies, the government – all of us need to shift gear on this crisis,” Khan said. “This is the biggest disaster in the world right now and we all need to get behind it.”
In a memorandum circulated todayyesterday, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that its capacity and that of other UN and international agencies to respond to the crisis created by the flooding was being “tested to the limits”.
The memo said: “Our staff in Pakistan say the situation is among the most difficult they have faced … Meeting the demands of this crisis is a massive challenge.” Problems included blocked access routes, collapsed bridges, lack of dry land to erect tents, lack of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, shortages of relief supplies, and “difficult security conditions”.
The Pakistani Taliban today urged the government not to accept western aid money, and offered to fund relief efforts itself. Taliban fighters have in the past attacked international aid groups in the country, accusing them of trying to introduce “un-Islamic” values
“Pakistan should reject this aid to maintain sovereignty and independence,” a Taliban spokesman told the Associated Press.
It was confirmed today that India, Pakistan’s historical foe and close neighbour, has offered no help so far and apparently has no plans to do so. A spokeswoman for the Indian High Commission in London said: “No decision has been taken so far on providing aid or assistance.”
But while no aid was forthcoming, the Indian army today sought the help of the Pakistan military to locate the bodies of 28 Indian soldiers who were swept across the provisional border in Kashmir by a raging Himalayan river.
A spokeswoman for the Pakistani High Commission in London said she was “not surprised” by India’s stance and declined to criticise the international response: “Every country has its own priorities. A lot of other countries have offered to help.”
Abdul Basit, foreign ministry spokesman in Islamabad, said: “So far, there is no aid from India for the calamity.” He declined to comment further. A senior Pakistani official said: “We are not expecting anything (from India). It does seem a bit strange. Even just as a goodwill gesture, it would be important.”
After the earthquake that devastated Pakistan-administered Kashmir five years ago, India gave 25 tonnes of food, medicine, tents, blankets and plastic sheets. This time Delhi has confined itself to sending a letter of condolence.
Meanwhile, instead of aid, Indian newspapers have focused on how Indian commerce could benefit by exporting sugar and cotton to a stricken Pakistan.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari returned home today after a European tour to face a chorus of criticism over his government’s response to the crisis. Zardari enraged critics for going ahead with visits to London and Paris despite the emergency.