Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pakistan: An Urgent Call for Aid

Editorial:New York Times

The magnitude of Pakistan’s current tragedy is almost more than the mind can take in. A fifth of the country flooded by torrential monsoon rains. Fifteen million to 20 million people driven from their homes or otherwise affected. Six million in need of emergency assistance, such as food and clean water. Millions of acres of the country’s best cropland underwater. Livestock drowned. Medical clinics destroyed. Cholera threatening the survivors.

This is a disaster on many levels. It is a tragedy for millions of people. It also is a strategic threat — to the stability of Pakistan’s nuclear-armed government and to American efforts to suppress Al Qaeda and other extremists wreaking havoc on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. These groups are eager to use the crisis to sow more resentment toward Islamabad and Washington and win new adherents for their nihilistic cause.

The world, especially the United States, must not blow this one. We worry it already could be doing that.

The United Nations has called for $460 million in donations for immediate relief. So far, less than half of that has been committed. The United Nations says that the money is urgently needed to supply food, clean water, tents or shelter materials, basic household goods, emergency health care and livestock feed. More delay means even more devastation.

Washington is doing better than other donors, providing badly needed helicopters for rescue and supply missions, prefabricated bridges and more than $70 million in relief and resettlement funds. It should be rallying other countries, as well as private organizations and individuals, to do their fair share. But surely this country, as the richest donor with the greatest strategic interest in Pakistan, could do a lot more right now.

The world has been slow to grasp the enormity of this crisis, perhaps because it unfolded slowly, not in a sudden jolt like an earthquake or tsunami. Or, perhaps, the floods were overshadowed by the out-of-control fires in Russia or were neglected because many donors were already fatigued from the challenge of rebuilding Haiti.

The relatively low death toll (about 1,500), the summer vacation doldrums and negative views of Pakistan as corrupt and war-ridden also may have dampened enthusiasm for helping.

The devastation in Pakistan is likely to worsen as the monsoon rains continue. But even an end to the rains won’t end the emergency. Plans need to be made right now to ensure that next year’s crops are planted. Looming ahead is the enormous challenge of rebuilding Pakistan’s shattered bridges, roads, structures and agricultural and economic base. For now, the humanitarian needs are paramount.

In some areas, radical Islamic charities have provided shelter and hot meals well before the beleaguered authorities could bring in supplies. This is a battle for hearts and minds. It is one that Pakistan’s government, and the United States, must not lose.

Russian President talks with Afghan, Pakistani leaders

MOSCOW — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is hosting the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan for talks on efforts to stabilize the region.

Russia has offered to help Pakistan deal with the catastrophic floods that have affected some 20 million people — or one in nine Pakistanis. The four presidents are expected to issue a statement after their Wednesday's talks urging a stronger international support for the flood victims.

The talks at Medvedev's residence at the Black Sea resort of Sochi will also focus on dealing with terrorism and drugs spreading from Afghanistan.

Medvedev has previously held similar talks, moving to reaffirm Russia's clout in the volatile region. He will also have bilateral meetings with each of the visiting presidents.