DEC press conference on Pakistan Floods

I’m sitting here on a rather damp day in August listening to the DEC conference on BBC news about the aid effort in Pakistan. Suffice to say, it’s on the wrong side of appalling.

The DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) is a charity that collects money and distribute it to charities who they are know are in a disaster area, on the ground. The British public have donated £29 million (US$45 million) to the aid effort already, and are likely to donate more, because this is the lead story on all the news networks over here and they are not holding back any particularly graphic pictures. Just in case you haven’t been watching the news or they aren’t covering it in your nation:

  • about 1,600 have been killed,
  • estimated 6 million people are now homeless,
  • 14 million people have been affected, 60% of the population are ‘food insecure’,
  • 20% of the whole landmass of Pakistan is underwater, which is about an area the size of Italy.
  • Ban Ki-Moon described the disaster as a ‘slow moving tsunami’: as the floods move towards the sea, its flooding more and more villages, towns and cities, and the water just keeps on increasing.
  • People are afraid of leaving their homes and their land because they think people will come and loot their properties after they leave, so they are waiting until the very last minute to leave.

The scale of the disaster is one of those on an unimaginable magnitude. People in England are struggling to get their heads around the scale of the disaster but they are giving money nonetheless; I have donated a little money to a collector in my town, my mother gave some money in church. But the UN has only got 70% of the initial relief effort money it needs – just the initial money. A number floated around by a correspondent on this news report was that Pakistan would need £10bn to rebuild, which sounds like a massive figure. But since the economic sneeze in 2008, I think people have confused their concept of big numbers. So how much are all these figures?

A Cursory look on bing (no particular preference) reveals the following:

  • The last time someone tried to buy the third largest supermarket chain (Sainsburys) in England, they tabled £10bn, of which £8bn was land.
  • The interest on the public debt of Britain for 2009 was £35bn – Pakistan only needs a third of this to substantially rebuild a whole country.

It has been three weeks already and the lack of help from the whole world is shaming. The disaster is still unfolding, the water has not stopped. The world’s government aid agencies and the NGOs only ‘provide’ for one disaster a year: USAID allotted one third of its entire yearly budget to the Haitian Earthquake. I’m not here to say that donating a third of it so early in the year was wrong: 250,000 people died on America’s doorstep and any help Haiti can get it should have.

The problem is that the frequency of natural disasters is clearly increasing. Agencies can no longer only factor in one disaster per year. 2010 has brought the Haitian Earthquake, Floods in Pakistan and China, wildfires in Russia and it’s only August. Earthquakes and Volcanoes are different, I know; El Nino, La Nina and other ‘random’ weather events don’t increase the incidents of those so we can’t even have a rudimentary pot shot at predicting them, but we still have to respond to these events in the same way.

The world is changing. It doesn’t matter so much what has caused it, what matters is what we can do about it. The world’s population of humans is rising exponentially, and ultimately these are more humans who are going to get in the way of Nature. What’s worse, the areas with the fastest rising populations are places which are very much in Nature’s way: a drought in subsaharan Africa or a failed monsoon across India and South East Asia could destroy the lives of millions, let alone a year of intense cyclonic activity. Human actions have made some of the potential consequences worse: a lot of rain in China and one burst dam high up in the mountains could pressurise those downstream so much we have a similar effect to Pakistan there, but with massive reservoirs and toxic industrial areas added in.

It might be said that all this is too upsetting to consider right now, what with the actual floods in China and Pakistan while some very conspicuous member nations of the world stand by and watch while their spiritual brothers and sisters are dying, but their so called enemies are scrambling to help. But this belies faulty thinking: humanity needs to get over itself and realise that we can’t segregate ourselves between ‘them’ and ‘us’ for much longer if we don’t want to make everything worse.

If you would like to donate, those in England can go to: DEC: 0370 60 60 900, and for those abroad, if you don’t have the DEC in your country, give to Oxfam or Actionaid instead. 🙂

Sources: (Figures of aid, from BBC news) (Sainsbury’s figure) (National Debt figures) (USAID figures)


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