Pakistan flood: Where are Islamabad's Muslim friends and China when it needs them?

The US has increased aid to Pakistan for the flood disaster. Saudi Arabia has, too. But other Muslim countries and big-ally China lag.

The United Nations is sending out a cry for more international aid to cope with Pakistan’s unprecedented flood, which covers an area about the size of Florida. The US is responding, but other nations, particularly Pakistan’s Muslim friends and big-ally China, must also step up.

The UN says it needs $459 million in immediate assistance for Pakistan. Today, the US upped its contribution to $150 million, from previously committed aid of about $76 million. America is the largest global donor by far, partly for strategic reasons.

As Democratic Sen. John Kerry said, the US does not want failure to multiply and strengthen jihadists and terrorists who could take advantage of the chaos, destruction, and suffering affecting some 20 million Pakistanis.

Critics in the West and also in Pakistan have wondered why response from Muslim friends and neighboring China has been slow and low. Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s closest Muslim allies, reacted by considerably increasing aid to $80 million from about $20 million.

That should serve as a catalyst for other Muslim nations in the Gulf region, many of which have the wealth to contribute. Kuwait, for instance, has offered only $5 million, same for Oman. Iran is in for $800,000, Qatar for $400,000, and the United Arab Emirates? Officially nothing.

Some Pakistanis, meanwhile, question why a relationship with China that is supposedly “as high as the Himalayas” has produced an offer of only $9 million – not even a foothill.

Perhaps China’s help will kick in quietly and substantially in the reconstruction phase, as it did for the 2005 Pakistani earthquake. Roads, homes, livestock, farms, and government buildings have been lost and will take several years – and billions of dollars – to rebuild.

The slow response from Pakistan’s friends could be due to the gradual dawning of the seriousness of the problem. Pakistan is prone to flooding, and early news reports of unusually heavy monsoon rains may have caused nothing more than an initial shrug in the region.

In comparison to other massive global disasters, the media have underreported this one, possibly because its effects grew over a few weeks.

If the problem is one of communication, the Pakistanis are now sounding the alarm, with envoys in major capitals alerting governments to the fact that this is the worst natural disaster in the country’s history – bigger than the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami combined.

An oft-heard explanation for reluctant giving in Muslim (and other) nations is Pakistani government corruption and wasted donor dollars. That’s not an unfounded complaint, but there are ways around this hurdle, for instance, funneling assistance through the UN, through nongovernmental organizations and responsible charities such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent, or even through the World Bank.

Still, Pakistan must do a much better job at transparency and efficiency. It developed a disaster response plan after the 2005 earthquake, but it hasn’t been implemented. It is on the cusp of key economic reforms, but it hasn’t done them yet. It should, to boost donor confidence.

Certainly Muslim countries have ample reason to help Pakistan, the second-largest Muslim nation in the world. Its guest workers have helped build many Gulf state economies. It has provided military assistance to Muslim friends, beefing up their air forces. Pakistan shares a border with Iran and sits at a strategic location.

But whether it is the United States or Muslim neighbors that are thinking strategically, the overriding reason for helping Pakistan remains humanitarian, as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized today. Mercy, above all else, must drive donor dollars, whether from nations or individuals.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a visit to Pakistan on Aug. 15: “I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this. The scale of this disaster is so large – so many people, in so many places, in so much need.”

The entire world must rise to the occasion.

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