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Parvez Ahmed

Parvez Ahmed

Posted: September 7, 2010 04:29 PM

The numbers are sobering. Nearly 1 in 8 Pakistanis are homeless as a result of an epic flood. Besides the staggering human cost of the tragedy the geo-political importance of Pakistan to US security interests cannot be overemphasized. With over 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in nearby Afghanistan and American drones routinely dropping bombs on suspected terrorist hideouts in Pakistan, both American security and American moral authority is at stake.

And yet according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Twenty-two U.S. aid groups have raised a total of $10.6-million to assist the estimated 20 million people affected by the floods; two-and-a-half weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 40 aid groups had brought in a total of $560-million."

While 3 million people were affected in Haiti the number affected in Pakistan is 7 times as much and climbing. As the flood waters recede, human misery is escalating.

Official U.S. contribution to the relief efforts stands at nearly $170 million accounting for nearly 1 in every 5 dollars pledged. The European Commission is next with nearly $95 million in assistance while Saudi Arabia comes third at $75 million. Impressive, but not nearly enough, given the scale of the disaster. Donations from China, which calls Pakistan its closest ally, is a paltry $18 million and neighboring India, which stands a lot to benefit from winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis, have only $25 million in "uncommitted" pledges.

In contrast, total official relief to Haiti is over $3 billion in funded aid and another $1.15 billion in "uncommitted" pledges. Pakistan facing a much larger catastrophe has received just over $1 billion in total aid. The biggest difference makers -- while official U.S. aid to Haiti is over $1.16 billion that to Pakistan is only about a tenth at $170 million. Also, private individuals and non-governmental organizations pledged over $1.23 billion for Haiti but for Pakistan the number is only $95 million. According to the Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain, the cost of rebuilding Pakistan is estimated at $10 to $15 billion and will take nearly 5 years.

Several reasons have been offered as possible explanation for the lethargic response to the Pakistan floods. Donor fatigue, concerns about corruption in Pakistan and weariness about Pakistan's lackadaisical effort countering radicals and terrorists are most cited. The reasons may be legitimate but this is no time to let the people of Pakistan down. Doing so will not only further destabilize an already wobbly nuclear power but it will also give radicals another pretext to continue their mindless violence. A proper tone must be set at the highest levels.

President Obama needs to articulate a sense of urgency if not for humanitarian reasons then at least as a national security imperative. His ability to cook dal may tickle Pakistanis but what will endear him is aid that will allow the 20 million displaced Pakistanis to cook dal, a staple diet in South Asia. Former Presidents Clinton and Bush (both W. and H.W.) have in the past teamed-up to raise funds for Indonesia and Haiti. They can do the same for Pakistan. This could be President Bush's moment of redemption for getting Pakistan so wrong.

The list of people who can help Pakistanis at their moment of crisis is not limited to U.S. Presidents. Hollywood can do its part. Angelina Jolie in her role as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador donated $100,000 and is urging that more be done. A quick way for ordinary citizens to follow her lead will be to text the word SWAT to 50555 for a $10 donation. But to raise the kind of money needed will take more creative efforts from Jolie's Hollywood compatriots. Sean Penn has set a great example in Haiti. Who will do the same for Pakistan?

Bollywood with its propensity to copy Hollywood can certainly take the lead in helping its neighbors in Pakistan much like Hollywood stars have thrown their support behind rebuilding neighboring Haiti. Hosting benefit concerts or telethons should not be too much to ask. Bollywood stars have as much following among Pakistanis as they have among Indians. Is it not time that they transcend the caustic India-Pakistan border politics and make a humanitarian gesture that may very well be the first salvo for lasting peace in the region?

The Pakistani Diaspora in the US, Europe and Middle East can also do more. In the US they should lobby members of Congress to increase US humanitarian aid to Pakistan perhaps by reallocating military spending towards humanitarian aid. They should also hold benefit events appealing to a broad cross-section of the society to participate. The Pakistani and Indian Diaspora in the US can also set a good example by working together to raise funds. Such gestures will not only accomplish the immediate funding need but also could very well become the seed for long run peace in the region. Failing to revive Pakistan will only make it more vulnerable to radicalization. If not for the humanitarian reasons then at least for national security reasons we must do more and inspire others to do more.

To see a list of how governments and private donors are helping relief efforts in Haiti and Pakistan and other ongoing humanitarian tragedies visit: ReliefWeb.

How can you help Pakistan? Click here to find out.

Professor Parvez Ahmed is a Fulbright Scholar and Associate Professor of Finance at the University of North Florida. He is also a frequent commentator on Islam and the Muslim American experience. You can read his blog at: http://drparvezahmed.blogspot.com/