UNITED NATIONS:

Western donations lag for Pakistan flood victims

UNITED NATIONS -- Public and private funding for the international response to Pakistan flooding has been trickling in, compared to the rush of support for Haiti following its January earthquake.

Why? Aid workers and officials at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, say Pakistan's reputation as a haven for the Taliban and al-Qaida, among other extremist groups, is leading some would-be Western donors to pause before offering support that experts say is desperately needed. Donors have also expressed concern over possible corruption and theft of resources, concerns that the humanitarian community is working hard to dispel.

"I certainly think that could be an issue," said Airlie Taylor, communications officer at ActionAid International. "There is perhaps some concern over how aid might be used and that kind of thing."

The heavy monsoon rains that began late last month have caused a humanitarian disaster on a scale never witnessed before in Pakistan's history. Data from the World Meteorological Organization say that the most heavily affected areas have already received about 180 percent of the rainfall expected in a normal cycle.

The United Nations and the Pakistani government say that about 20 million people have been hit by the flooding, with some 6 million possibly made homeless and at least 1,600 reported dead. The floodwaters have destroyed numerous roads and bridges and have left much of the population cut off from what relief aid there is.

The United Nations launched a flash appeal requesting $459 million for emergency relief, money that has been slow to arrive. Thus far, U.N. officials say, about 35 percent of the money requested has been received or committed, the vast majority from the U.S. and U.K. governments.

Getting more money from other sources, particularly from private donors in the United States, has been more of a challenge, aid agencies admit.

While the U.K. public now seems to be responding generously, "public response across other countries -- in Italy, for example, and the U.S. -- has perhaps been a bit lower," ActionAid's Taylor said.

Public opinion of Pakistan is seen as one factor in the slower response. Pakistani media reports also suggest that their public believes mistrust of the government in Islamabad is turning donors away.

A June poll taken by CNN shows that 78 percent of Americans hold mostly unfavorable views of Pakistan. A 2010 Gallup poll showed similar results, with 47 percent of respondents saying they were mostly negative on Pakistan, while 24 percent said they held "very" negative views of that country.

Pakistanis apparently feel the same about the United States.

A recent July poll conducted by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project showed that 17 percent of Pakistanis held a favorable opinion of the United States, with 59 percent actually describing the United States as an "enemy." President Obama was less popular in Pakistan than in 22 other nations surveyed.

But support for Islamic extremists in Pakistan has fallen in recent years, though changes in attitude vary. Fifteen percent of Pakistanis said they like the Taliban, up from 10 percent in 2009 but sharply lower than the 27 percent who told Pew they held a favorable view of the militant group in 2008. Eighteen percent of Pakistanis hold favorable views of al-Qaida, down from 25 percent two years ago.

Donor fatigue?

Whether public opinion matters as much as some believe is difficult to determine, said Patrick McCormick, an official at UNICEF headquarters in New York.

"The fact that a lot of people gave a lot to Haiti is also a factor here," McCormick said. "There's a lot of fatigue out there, and Haiti maybe was more sympathetic. It's difficult to tell how these things play out."

But not everyone agrees that strained relations with the West are hurting Pakistanis suffering from their worst recorded natural disaster.

"Partly, it's media coverage," said Randy Strash, strategic director for disaster response at World Vision. "When the disaster broke, the story in the news was more about the killings of the aid workers in Afghanistan, compared to coverage in the media in Europe, Canada and elsewhere. We weren't really seeing that much coverage of the floods."

World Vision says it typically draws in 10 to 15 times as much in assistance for an earthquake as for floods, largely due to the high death toll seen in earthquakes. Fundraisers also complain that the media in the United States have been much slower to pick up on the flooding story than in other parts of the world.

Still, the disparity is huge. Strash estimates that his organization alone drew in about $44 million for relief work in Haiti just from private donors in the United States. For the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, $9 million was raised in the United States, and to date, World Vision has managed to raise $660,000 from private U.S. donors for flood relief.

Aid workers say they are confident that more money is on the way as "the world is starting to wake up to the magnitude of the crisis," said Taylor. But no one expects the level of support to come anywhere near to matching the more than $3 billion promised to Haiti over the next couple of years.

"With floods and with other slower-onset disasters, it doesn't seem to provoke the same level of response," Strash said.

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