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Has Aid for Pakistan Flood Crisis Been Enough?

September 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Pakistan is struggling to assess the aftermath of its recent flood crisis, and may need more international aid. Jeffery Brown talks to philanthropy and humanitarian experts about whether the aid delivered so far has been enough.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now to a closer look at efforts to help Pakistan’s flood victims. Roughly a billion dollars in private and government donations have been pledged so far. But with the need so great, the United Nations is reportedly preparing to ask its members to double the amount they’re giving.

For their part, individual Americans have opened their wallets in this crisis, but to a lesser degree than in previous disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake. We discuss all this now with, Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and Steve Hollingworth, chief operating officer and executive vice president of global operations for the humanitarian organization CARE.

Steve Hollingworth, I will start with you. Give us up an update. Where are the greatest needs that you see, and what aid is getting through now?

STEVE HOLLINGWORTH, executive vice president of Global Operations, CARE: Well, as you know, the — the emergencies really unfolded from some of the most remote Himalayan valleys right down into the fertile Indus River plain. And the needs are right all along that floodplain area. And the situation is changing, I think, quite rapidly, improving in the Swat Valley, improving near the Himalayas, and access is improving, in collaboration with a lot of international actors.

You know, the big concern now, I think, is more in the Punjab area and in the Sindh area, largely because of the dense populations that you have there. The populations would have been living in flood-prone areas vulnerable to the river flooding for some time. And, frankly, they’re — they’re being displaced now in huge numbers, millions of people having to find their ways to makeshift refugee camps.

And, of course, you know, communicable diseases, waterborne diseases are the main concern at the moment. That’s been our focus.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Let me — OK. Excuse me. Let me bring in Patrick Rooney, because you have been tracking the amounts of giving. Give us some — some context here in compare — comparing it to other disasters. What do you see?

PATRICK ROONEY, executive director, Indiana University Center on Philanthropy: Jeff, if you look at this five weeks out, what we have seen so far is about $25 million donated to the Pakistani flood relief victims this year. And if you compare that to Haiti, almost a billion dollars five weeks out, the tsunami, almost a billion dollars five weeks out, 9/11, $1.1 billion, and Katrina almost $2 dollars after five weeks. And so you can see that the order of magnitude is about 40 times different for most of the disasters and almost 80 times different for Katrina.

So, it’s a vastly different scope and scale of support.

JEFFREY BROWN: And why? What do you think is going on? What are the factors?

PATRICK ROONEY: I think there’s a couple. Yes, I think there’s a couple of factors. I think, first, it’s a hard-to-reach area. And, so, there has not been as much media coverage.

And one of the things we have seen in other disasters is, the greater the media coverage, the greater the disaster relief giving. And, so, I think those two things go hand in hand. I think, also, the number of casualties. It was reported that about 2,000 people have died from these floods. And if you compare that to 200,000 who died shortly after the earthquake in Haiti, and you had several thousand who died in 9/11 and so on, I think, when you look at the scope and magnitude of the deaths and of the square footage or square miles affected, I think those are the types of things that affect that.

But I think the root-cause difference is probably the fact that there’s concerns about terrorism and there’s concerns about corruption in the military and corruption in the government, and concerns, therefore, that gifts may not get to those who need them the most.

And I think that’s probably the biggest obstacle for people who are considering making a gift at this time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And just to be clear, those numbers you were giving us, that — those were numbers for Americans giving?

PATRICK ROONEY: Right. That’s — that’s only private from American organizations, from American individuals, foundations, and corporations to nonprofits doing international relief work in each of those disasters.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Steve Hollingworth, pick up on that. What factors do you see at play? How much of it is particular to Pakistan and concerns that we just heard?

STEVE HOLLINGWORTH: Well, we have seen a — CARE has seen a strong donation flow coming from Europe, for example. And I believe the kith and kin issue is very strong between Pakistan and Europe. And that’s been helpful there. It’s less strong in the U.S.

And I think the other thing is, with a slow-onset emergency, such as a flood, of this nature, it may be harder for people to empathize. It raises a lot of very complicated issues, like the deterioration of floodplains, of — of watershed areas and the influence that that has on the flow of water.

It — it’s — the story also is about people, very poor people living in vulnerable situations, and their chronic poverty being complicated by so much water, so much dirty water around them. So, I think it’s less of an emotional attachment maybe that it strikes with people. And it raises a lot of issues about very complex themes that we see in the developing world all the time…

JEFFREY BROWN: And, staying with you, does that include the association with terrorism, the worries about corruption or an inefficient government, in other words, where the money that people give would be going to, how it would be used?

STEVE HOLLINGWORTH: Well, one of the things that I can assure is that, from CARE’s point of view, we work with nine national partners in Pakistan. And we vet them very closely, work with them very closely, and are able to make sure that our aid goes from people to people.

You know, in every — in many developing countries in the world, security, poor governance become — become issues that affect the — the effectiveness of an aid effort. But — you know, I think it’s critical that people see that these are real human beings. These are mothers and children and fathers and sons that are being affected by this, not just abstract things, like corrupt governments.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Patrick Rooney, again, as you study these things over time, what about sheer donor fatigue, particularly in a bad economy? What does history tell us?

PATRICK ROONEY: Yes, I think there is some concern about donor fatigue, and for a couple of reasons, one, because the economy is, you know, weaker than it has been at other times.

On the other hand, we saw disaster relief giving for Haiti turn out to be quite strong and — and quite sustained for — for many months. And, so, that doesn’t tell the whole story. I mean, I think that’s part of it. And, in fact, perhaps some of the Haiti relief giving is part of the donor fatigue.

On the other hand, I think that generally, when Americans give, the average gift has ranged between $125 and $135 per household for different disasters. And, so, the gifts tend to be relatively small, a lot of people giving relatively small amounts.

In fact, the median gift for all of the disasters that we have tracked has been $50. And so you know that most people can spend $50 a lot of different ways. So it’s not as if people are refinancing their house in order to give these disaster relief gifts. And that’s not to disparage those gifts. It’s just to say that they’re relatively small amounts and fairly widespread support. And I think what we have seen in Pakistan is that it has not generated this widespread support for — for donors.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will watch it continue to unfold. And thank you very much for joining us on this Labor Day, Steve Hollingworth and Patrick Rooney. Thanks a lot.