The Pakistan Aid Crisis

NPR's Michele Norris talks to Molly Kinder, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, who is leading the center's work on a U.S. development strategy for Pakistan. They discuss why relief has been slow to reach the flood-hit country.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is pressuring the international community to step up with more aid for the victims of Pakistan's massive flooding, saying it is the single worst natural disaster he has ever seen.

Mr. BAN KI-MOON (Secretary General, United Nations): I will never forget the destruction and sufferings I have witnessed today. In the past I have visited scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.

NORRIS: The death toll is smaller than in other large disasters - more than 1,300 people have died - but the number of people whose lives have been upended is almost hard to fathom. Almost one-quarter of the country's territory has been hit by flooding that started two weeks ago. Twenty million people have been displaced.

And the U.N. now estimates that the humanitarian crisis will top the combined effects of the Asian tsunami and the earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti, the three worst natural disasters of the past decade.

To find out more about why relief for Pakistan has been slow in coming, we turn to Molly Kinder. She's senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development. She's leading the center's work on a U.S. development strategy. Thanks for coming into the studio.

Ms. MOLLY KINDER (Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Global Development): Thanks for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, it sounds like at this point the aid is not commensurate with the need.

Ms. KINDER: That is very correct. The U.N. has appealed urgently for close to $460 million just for the humanitarian response in the next three months. And unfortunately, only about a quarter of that money has been pledged, not even committed. So we're really seeing a very sort of anemic response from the international community in the face of one of the worst catastrophes in recent time.

NORRIS: And what explains that?

Ms. KINDER: You know, I think it's a combination of factors. One, I think is that the psychology of flooding is quite different from some of the recent tragedies we've seen. I think an earthquake or a tsunami, that imminent moment of destruction and the huge death toll numbers really captures not only the imagination, but sort of really catches people in their souls and their heart.

And when we think about a flood that's gone on for over 10 days and it's snaking its way through this big country, that's hard for people to wrap their minds around.

NORRIS: Is it possible that people don't understand the full extent of the flooding because so much of this is happening in rural and very remote areas?

Ms. KINDER: Absolutely. You know, I think one of the difficulties is that it's hard for people to wrap their mind around what Pakistan looks like without a flood, let alone trying to picture a map and sort of the swollen rivers and subsuming entire swaths of a country that they probably don't have a vision of in their own head.

And so what I hope is that maybe, you know, more media attention - Senator Kerry's about to arrive - finding some ways to use multimedia to really try to convey the magnitude and the personal stories in there.

NORRIS: Do international donors hold back if they don't have full confidence that the civilian government on the ground will be good stewards with their cash, or if they're concerned that there is not some sort of government apparatus, official government apparatus to take control of a region?

Ms. KINDER: I think that's somewhat of a flimsy excuse in this case when we're just talking about the immediate humanitarian response. If you look at the U.S. commitment, we're giving a lot of that money to international partners on the ground. So think the International Red Cross or the World Food Program. A lot of that commitment is not going to the government of Pakistan.

I think this question you raised becomes a huge issue when we turn from the immediate humanitarian response to what is going to be a staggering process of trying to rebuild these regions, which is going to take years and billions of dollars. And there's absolutely no way to go around working with the government of Pakistan.

NORRIS: Some of the Pakistani expats here in the United States, and also in Britain, have suggested that an - sort of underlying anti-Islamic sentiment may be at work in explaining why some of the aid has been slow to come forward. Is there anything to that?

Ms. KINDER: I'm not sure I would go so far as to make that statement. I think what we are seeing a lot is a potential for a fatigue just of Pakistan. I mean, Pakistan is in the news, you know, this summer, even alone I think there's a lot of emergencies.

NORRIS: That could work both ways, though. That would raise awareness as well, right?

Ms. KINDER: It certainly would. You know, I have a little bit of a concern that Pakistan's reputation in this country is one of - often of bad news, of the national security concerns of al-Qaida, of WikiLeaks, of all these negative stories we see. We rarely see a positive story about Pakistan.

And there may be something to that that limits sort of people's charitable impulse. I hope that's not the case and I really put the onus on our policymakers and our leaders to explain to the American people how much our own safety at home matters in how we respond to this earthquake. And it's a moral imperative, it's a humanitarian imperative, but it's very much a security imperative.

NORRIS: Molly Kinder, thanks for coming in.

Ms. KINDER: Thanks, Michele, I appreciate it.

NORRIS: Molly Kinder is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development.

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