Canadians need to step it up

The global response to Pakistan’s flood crisis is heartbreakingly low. Canadians need to do more.

Pakistanis ride on a boat as they move to higher ground as floodwaters continue to rise at Sehwan Sharif

Pakistanis ride on a boat as they move to higher ground as floodwaters continue to rise at Sehwan Sharif

Former managing editor Joe McLaughlin returns to the pages of the Advocate today and will contribute a regular column to the Weekend Edition. McLaughlin retired last year after more than 30 years at the Advocate.

The global response to Pakistan’s flood crisis is heartbreakingly low. Canadians need to do more.

The scale of the disaster is enormous.

Pakistan has about 174 million people, the sixth most in the world, in a nation only 20 per cent larger than Alberta.

About nine million acres of farmland — one-sixth the total amount farmed in Alberta — was under water after the floods started in July.

An estimated 1,600 people were killed and 17 million people were directly affected initially. That’s equivalent to half the population of Canada.

About six million Pakistanis were rendered homeless.

Without a serious and sustained global response, the toll of death and disease will continue climbing for years.

Women and children, as always, have been the hardest hit. But every Pakistani will be hurt to greater or lesser degrees by this disaster.

The global response to this crisis has been limited, both from governments and from individuals.

Pakistan’s floods have not sparked anything close to the massive humanitarian response to the Haiti earthquake in January, or the Asian tsunami in 2004.

There are some reasons for the differences. In Haiti, more than 200,000 people were killed in less than an hour. News photos and videos of the disaster were stark and heartbreaking.

Haiti is also less than three hours by air from Canada and has close ties, particularly to Quebec, because of their largely francophone populations and extensive Haitian immigration.

The 2004 tsunami struck Asia just after Christmas, a time when most Canadians are home with their families, feeling generous and when the news agenda is typically slow.

The Pakistan floods came in the summer when more Canadians are on holidays and less attuned to the news.

There are other, more complicated reasons for the lower levels of public and government aid.

Pakistan has a well-earned reputation for government corruption. Canadians may wonder if their personal donations will ever get to people in need.

However that stumbling block should be no more limiting for Pakistan than for Haiti or many needy Third World nations in crisis, ruled by dubious kleptocrats. At least Pakistan has a semblance of and an appetite for democracy.

Reputable government-funded Canadian and international aid agencies have experience limiting the burden of government corruption in distributing humanitarian aid.

Regrettably, Pakistan is also linked to the Taliban, which is killing Canadian soldiers who are fighting to bring stability and modernity to Afghanistan.

For years, Pakistan’s government turned a blind eye to murderous Taliban insurgents who use its mountainous border lands with Afghanistan as a safe haven. But in the past year, the Pakistani government has become more attuned to risks that the Taliban poses to national as well as international security, and has begun to take them on.

The rest of the world can help Pakistan by lifting some of the burden of the flood crisis.

This week, the Canadian government took two steps towards that end.

It added another $7.5 million in emergency aid, raising its total commitment so far to $40.5 million.

That pledge makes Canada the fourth largest flood-aid contributor globally. But spread among the 17 million Pakistanis who have been directly affected by the flood, it seems like a pathetically small number.

The second Canadian government announcement this week can help rectify that.

It has extended the deadline for matching individual Canadians’ donations to flood aid.

A program where the federal government matches every dollar given by Canadians was scheduled to expire this week.

In the face of low and falling donations, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has mercifully extended the deadline to Oct. 3.

That gives every Canadian a second chance to help.

For millions of desperate Pakistanis, our chance could be their salvation.

Among the agencies accepting donations are the Canadian Red Cross. You can donate at the Red Deer office (in the old brewery building at 5301 43rd St.) or online at www.redcross.ca.

Joe McLaughlin retired from the Advocate last year after 25 years as managing editor

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