UN Seeks ‘Extraordinary Response’ to Pakistani Flooding Disaster

In a bid to further boost international response to the Pakistan flood emergency, the U.N. adopted Aug. 19 a resolution calling for global aid to support the Pakistani government’s efforts in addressing the crisis.

The resolution was adopted during a special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, which featured more than 45 speakers calling for international solidarity to help the flood-hit Asian country. The appeal comes amidst criticisms that the world’s response to the Pakistani situation has been slow, with some experts noting that donor countries appear reluctant to pour aid into the country.

“Make no mistake: this is a global disaster, a global challenge. It is one of the greatest tests of global solidarity in our times,” Ban told the General Assembly, explaining that the Pakistani flooding affected more people than the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Cyclone Nagris, Haiti earthquake and Kashmir earthquake combined.

The majority of speakers - representatives of countries, international organizations and the Pakistani government - observed that the situation in Pakistan is still evolving. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a “slow motion tsunami” in which needs are expected to grow over the next few weeks.

Ban thanked donor nations and organizations that heeded the U.N.’s USD460 million aid appeal, which he said was nearly 50 percent funded. However, he urged the international community to continue to scale up their response to the Pakistan initial emergency response plan launched by the U.N. last week.

The current response is “not commensurate with the scale of the disaster,” according to Martin Nesirky, Ban’s spokesperson, as reported by the New York Times.

Ali Treki, the president of the U.N. General Assembly, added:  “This is an extraordinary emergency situation. It requires an extraordinary response.”

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, who recently visited Pakistan, noted that the “worst could still come” as heavy rains are still expected and the River Indus is predicted to rise. He emphasized the U.K. is ready to support Pakistan both in the short and long term.

Meanwhile, Belgian Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Steven Vanackere welcomed the U.N. resolution and promised that the European Union is prepared to step up to the challenge. Belgium currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

Vanackere highlighted the assistance that the EU has already provided to Pakistan. He added that the bloc is committed to helping the country rebuild in the long-term. Pakistan will be among the priorities of the next informal meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in September, he said.

Donor fatigue?

Donations to the U.N. aid appeal and other channels of aid for Pakistan are reported to be picking up, but several experts note that the response still appears sluggish, especially when compared to similar disasters of recent years.

As Devex reported, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has attributed this slow response to Pakistan’s “image deficit,” while others blamed the media’s low-key coverage of the disaster.

Laura Freschi notes that Pakistan’s unpopularity among U.S. tourists’ may also be factor.

“The same study found that one third of the variation in how much TV attention a disaster gets is explained by how popular the affected country is with US tourists. Sadly for the flood victims, Pakistan is nowhere on the list of top destinations for US travelers in Asia and the outlook’s not great: the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan 113 out of 133 countries in its latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report,” Freschi writes on the “Aid Watch” blog.

There are other theories, as Mosharraf Zaidi outlined in an opinion piece on Foreign Policy. These include donor fatigue, Pakistan fatigue, rampant corruption in the Pakistani government and the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

“There’s a degree of truth to all these explanations. But the main reason that Pakistan isn’t receiving attention or aid proportionate to the devastation caused by these floods is because, well, it’s Pakistan.” Zaidi argues. “When the victims are Haitian or Sri Lankan – hardly citizens of stable, [well-governed] countries, themselves – Americans and Europeans are quick to open their hearts and wallets. But in this case, the humanity of Pakistan’s victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country.”

About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.