13.8 million people in Pakistan are affected by the worst flood in a century. More than 1,500 are dead and many more unaccounted for. Entire villages and towns have been consumed by rising water levels, and hundreds of thousands are stranded. The only real quiet in this storm has been international response. It's one that could lead to future support of regional extremist groups.
Working in long-term reconstruction makes you understand that not all natural disasters are created equally. I've worked in close to a dozen areas affected by earthquake, flooding or hurricanes, and it is the most random hooks that spark a massive international response. The 2004 South Asia tsunami was the camcorder disaster as many foreigners were vacationing during the winter holidays, Hurricane Katrina became the 24-hour news channel disaster with endless helicopter footage of stranded homeowners, Haiti was the social media disaster with Twitter relaying information on the ground moments after the horrific earthquake, and the oil gusher caught our ire once we saw the underwater smoking gun. Sadly, these media moments make or break a disaster response.
The Pakistan floods of 2010 strike a strange similarity to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. The world distracted by two major events -- then the tsunami and Katrina, and now Haiti and the Gulf spill. It also reminded me of a couple of other things from 2005. It was the first time our office received strong negative emails regarding whether we should respond. These ranged from the simple "why should we help those people?" to almost gleeful emails at the tragic situation. Due to lack of interest and support, we focused on a simple reconstruction manual (now being used in Haiti), but decided not to get directly involved. We did re-route well-meaning groups and individuals to local organizations like Karavan Pakistan and their Earthquake KAPIT-program.
Feeling like I had let colleagues down, I reached out to an independent USAID* contractor about the state of the reconstruction. His response was eye-opening. At the time, he was less concerned by the lack of funding but what will happen when the international community walks away. He implored, "Guess who will build the schools and health clinics? A well-funded group that will step in looking to win the hearts and minds of the people? The extreme factions of the Taliban. People don't just become terrorists, they join these groups when there is nothing left to lose."
Lack of international response to massive disasters in regionally sensitive areas are a breeding ground for future terrorism. When you have nothing to live for, you have everything to die for. We live in an interconnected world, and it is our responsibility to the global community to effectively implement a transparent aid strategy that enables and empowers locals in the rebuilding process. Otherwise, other groups with alternate reasons will step in and fill the societal cracks left after disaster.
*After the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake USAID spent $200M over five years, which included building 56 schools and 19 health facilities.