Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The slow moving disaster in Pakistan changes its numbers every day. As I write today there are an estimated 20 million people affected. The reported death rate of 1,600 seems to have its meter stuck. The reason is that calculating those effected is simple. Simply take the pre-flood population of areas now underwater if you want a measure of the affected. Death rates are much harder to estimate in a country where the means of communication have basically been cut off in the flooded areas and huge numbers of people are on the move. The figure of 1,600 is undoubtedly far lower than the actual toll by at least an order of magnitude ie 16,000 is probably a low estimate while 160,000 is probably too high. While this is not of the same magnitude as the 1938, 1931, and 1887 floods in the Huang He (Yellow) river basin in China even the probable lower number easily earns this flood a place amongst the worst floods in history. For more info on the largest floods in history see here, here and here.

Still, this is certainly the largest recorded flood in the country of Pakistan. Members of Winnipeg's Pakistani community have been fund raising for disaster relief since the beginning. This has mostly been done through the Association of Pakistani Canadians, 348 Ross Ave., Winnipeg, MB R3E 0L4. Phone # 204-943-6928. Get in touch with them if you would like to donate. The funds raised will go via the Red Cross (forwarded to the Pakistani Red Crescent), and Human Concern International. You might also donate via these organizations. The latter is particularly interesting as they claim that 95% of funds donated go directly to relief work, something that might give some pause in the case of other charities.

All that being said there is something quite disturbing about the response or lack thereof of the international community to the Pakistani floods. Molly reproduces below one anarchist comment on this from the website of the Irish Workers' Solidarity Movement. In actial fact the glaring contrasts between the response of international governments and their spending on what they consider important is far more glaring than the following suggests. I'll speak more about this at the end of this post.
Response to Pakistan floods shows barbarism of system
Date: Tue, 2010-08-17 14:31
Radio, television and newspaper reports of the recent devastating floods in Pakistan are at last beginning to refer to the sheer scale of the problems faced by the victims. Figures for the number of people affected vary widely. According to the Irish Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power, reported in today’s (Tuesday) Irish Times, “the United Nations estimated that 40 million people had been left homeless; that eight million of those were in urgent need of immediate food and shelter; and that the combination of rising water and humidity had made a cholera epidemic a real danger”. RTE’s website says “Aid agencies are saying that the world does not fully understand the scale of the flooding disaster ….. One fifth of the country has been hit by severe flooding, with more than 20m people affected…..The UN believes up to 3.5m children are now at risk of contracting water-borne diseases….”.

Whatever the numbers, it is clear that the devastation caused is unprecedented. Apart from the immediate short-term needs in terms of shelter, food and clean water, the Pakistani poor and working class are facing food shortages, higher food prices and increased poverty and deprivation for considerable time to come. Already the price of vegetables has increased by about 100%, sugar has gone up by over 20%, and the price of other staple foodstuffs has rocketed. Transport prices too have soared as operators exploit the desperation of those trying to flee the devastated areas.

Caught between the authoritarianism of a corrupt government which spends huge amounts annually on its military - the defence budget for 2010/11 increased by 17% to 442.2billion rupees (over 4billion Euros) – and the authoritarianism of the Taliban ‘rebels’, the ordinary people of Pakistan face a seemingly hopeless situation. Protests have broken out across the country demanding much-needed aid and support for the victims.

The United Nations Secretary General has announced its biggest ever relief effort and made an appeal for $460million (€358million). The response of the world’s governments has been pathetically slow with less than a quarter of this amount pledged.

It’s worth stopping for a moment and considering a couple of figures – Pakistani government military spending this year at €4billion will be over 10 times the total flood relief pledged by the United Nations. The Irish government meanwhile will throw €24billion (do the maths – that’s over 60 times the total flood relief pledged by the United Nations!) down the Anglo Irish Bank black hole and into the pockets of wealthy speculators.

And they tell us that capitalism works!
Here are some facts that put what is happening in Pakistan and the world's response to it in perspective:
>>The article above mentions the yearly military budget for Pakistan. Right next door to this country the US military is waging what may turn out to be its longest war ever. In 2009 the USA spent $3.6 billion a month on this war. According to an article in USA Today the cost by February of this year had climbed to $6.7 billion a month, and by the end of 2010 the Afghan war will be costing $8.9 billion a month. The estimated cost in 2011 will be $9.75 billion a month. So far the USA has pledged (not delivered yet) $70 million. Take out your handy dandy calculators. That 70 million amounts to a little less than 4/5ths of one percent of what the US is presently spending per month on their operations in Pakistan's neighbour. I think this shows just how "seriously" the US takes the welfare of people in Pakistan.
>>To add injury to insult the USA has not even called at least a temporary halt to its remote controlled terrorism in Pakistan. Just last Saturday US missiles fired from a drone killed 12 people in the village of Issori in North Waziristan.
>>Meanwhile each and every US military helicopter that arrives in Pakistan is sure to get its own golden glowing press release. At the same time as its missiles were raining down on Issori last Saturday a "wonderful" total of 2 came to flood aid. On Monday this was doubled to an "astounding" total of four. I wonder how many US helicopters are in Afghanistan. Surely the US military could at least slow down on its attacks on wedding parties and other such things to divert a few more of them to Pakistan. There'll still be crowds of Afghans left over to attack later after all.
>>Finally, in perhaps the starkest light, the pledged US aid to Pakistan is almost exactly the same as another sum that was recently in the news. The 70 or 76 million dollars is about the same sum that Madonna recently paid in a divorce settlement to be able to ditch her latest husband. That says it all.

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