Americans are not stingy about showing their support when natural disasters strike. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast five years ago this week and washed away the homes and livelihoods of so many, the outpouring of support from across the U.S. was overwhelming.
Earlier this year, that same type of generous support made it possible for InterAction's alliance of U.S.-based international organizations to raise $1 billion from the American public to meet the Haitian people's urgent basic needs, help stem outbreaks of disease, and start rebuilding a country.
The humanitarian responses in Haiti--and even on the Gulf Coast--are ongoing and will continue, and we as individuals must do our best to make sure those affected by another major disaster in Pakistan don't suffer needlessly.
It's been difficult for me to imagine that the devastation wrought by the horrific earthquake in January would be repeated just months later in Pakistan. Yet here we are. Humanitarian workers know disasters will come, but increasingly events of such devastating magnitude are no longer separated by years--ideally decades--of relative calm.
Maybe we can attribute this year's floods to a confluence of environmental degradation and the impact of climate change (plausible based on what some experts are saying). Or perhaps, we can just chalk it up to simply a bad year for disasters. Whatever the reason, the world is witnessing another disaster of monumental proportions.
This year's annual monsoon rains have set off a chain of events that have left almost a quarter of Pakistan under water. More than 17 million Pakistanis, many of them farmers, have watched these floods wipe out their homes, crops, hospitals, and livelihoods--forever changing their lives.
Too many Americans know what it is like to have their lives forever changed by natural or man-made disasters like this year's Iowa floods or the Gulf Coast oil spill. And while there is nothing that can take away the suffering these disasters have caused, we know that what we do after them can make a tremendous difference.
Unfortunately, much of what we as Americans hear about Pakistan is couched solely in terms of its importance in the fight against international terrorism. Media and political commentators throw around phrases like advancing geostrategic goals, undermining extremist groups or winning hearts and minds.
I acknowledge the importance of such realities, but they overshadow the desperate needs of ordinary Pakistanis who have been devastated by the floods. These citizens are not very different from families in our own communities. They worry about whether they'll be able to have food on their tables, they advocate for better schools, demand adequate health care--they want their communities, their country and the world to be better places for their children. And now, they need our help.
InterAction and its member organizations are committed to helping all of those in need during times of international crisis. Our member's humanitarian operations are ultimately dependent on the contributions of individual Americans. We see ourselves as the face of the generosity that compels ordinary Americans to find money in their already tight budgets to assist strangers experiencing desperate circumstances in countries halfway around the world.
Humanitarian aid workers put the resources they have been trusted with to use daily in Haiti and Pakistan to ensure their work is carried out based on the core humanitarian principles: that all people have the right to have their basic needs met; that humanitarian assistance is provided to all regardless of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions; and that humanitarian workers do not take sides in any conflict or controversy.
As of this week, 27 InterAction member organizations have received $11,898,584 in donations towards the response to the floods from the American public. We know from the outpouring of support and concern after the earthquake in Haiti that even during these difficult economic times, we as a country are capable of so much more. And the people of Pakistan are counting on it.
Follow Samuel A. Worthington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/InterActionOrg