NEW YORK – Americans are giving a paltry amount for relief efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan compared to other overseas disasters. They were more than 40 times more generous for the Haiti earthquake.
Reasons include the slow-motion nature of the calamity, relatively scant TV coverage, and — unmistakably — the fact that the strategic Muslim ally is viewed warily by many Americans.
No disasters are alike. Yet a month into Pakistan's flood catastrophe, with 8 million people in dire need and a fifth of its territory affected, the donation comparisons are startling.
InterAction, an umbrella group for U.S. relief agencies active abroad, says its affiliates have raised about $12 million thus far for Pakistan, compared to more than $500 million at the same stage of the Haiti earthquake relief effort earlier this year.
The American Red Cross, traditionally the biggest recipient of disaster relief donations, has collected about $2 million for Pakistan and is dipping into a contingency fund to support its work there. At the same stage, it had raised about $100 million in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, more than $670 million for Hurricane Katrina and about $230 million for the Haiti quake.
"People find it complicated to understand our relationship with Pakistan — how the government works, who to trust," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which has been tracking the donations.
"It was easier to look at a place like Haiti and know a quick response was needed," she said.
In Haiti and the nations hit by the tsunami, the devastation's scope was apparent immediately to anyone who saw the graphic images on television. In each case, the death toll surpassed 200,000.
Pakistan's floods, in contrast, worsened over a period of days — and the outside world was relatively slow in realizing the scope of the catastrophe in a country already wracked by the Taliban insurgency. The flood death toll, estimated at 1,500, is viewed by some experts as misleadingly small given the scale of the dislocations and the long-term damage to Pakistani society.
"Fortunately, the death toll is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti," said David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross. "The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti."
The disaster unfolded at a time when many Americans were on vacation, aloof from breaking news. And initial TV coverage of the floods was not as extensive as for the tsunami or Haiti quake, according to charity experts who say that likely diminished donations.
"The media coverage of the Pakistan floods has been minimal," wrote Charity Navigator vice president Sandra Miniutti on the monitoring group's blog. "As they say, out of sight, out of mind."
Samuel Worthington, president of InterAction, has been urging Americans to overcome any doubts about Pakistan's political and security problems, and to be as generous toward the flood victims as they were to victims of the tsunami and Haiti quake.
"Pakistan is a very diverse country, with a population that tends to be labeled through a very small subset of terrorists," he said. "You have a large population, whether it's lawyers or farmers, who simply want to live in peace. That story doesn't get told, but it needs to be told, especially when they're suffering."
In Worthington's latest appeal, an article this week on the Huffington Post, he wrote, "We as a country are capable of so much more. And the people of Pakistan are counting on it."
The responses to his plea reflected the conflicting emotions among Americans. One reader said Pakistan was undeserving of aid because of its huge military budget and alleged links between its secret service and terrorist groups. Others expressed empathy for Pakistani civilians, but disdain for the government on grounds of corruption and ineffectiveness.
"Yes, there is a real humanitarian need here," wrote Idean Salehyan, a political science professor at the University of North Texas. "But, as Pakistan rebuilds, it is important that its people insist on more from their leaders."
The U.S. government has been largest donor to the flood relief effort, allocating $200 million to date. Yet a recent Pew Foundation poll found nearly six in 10 Pakistanis viewed the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.
The most successful private U.S. fundraiser thus far is Islamic Relief USA, which says it has collected about $4 million from its predominantly Muslim-American donor base.
"Most of their concerns are that the money doesn't fall into hands of the Pakistan government," said spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed. "We assure them it goes directly from donor to beneficiary."
Zeeshan Suhail, a Pakistani-American who serves on the board of New York City's Muslim Consultative Network, is convinced that donations from non-Muslims are lagging because many Americans view Pakistan as a haven for terrorists. The controversy over a proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site has worsened matters, he suggested.
"The culture of hate and bigotry has robbed the Pakistanis of some much needed aid," Suhail said.
Yet many non-Muslims are eager to give — an example is St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Seattle, where the parish has decided to take a special collection Sunday exclusively for Catholic Relief Service's flood-related work in Pakistan. Rev. John Whitney, the pastor, says he expects parishioners to exceed the $26,000 that they donated to a comparable collection for Haiti earthquake relief.
"I don't think anybody has illusions that this is suddenly going to turn the tide and everybody in Pakistan is going to love us," Whitney said. "You don't do it because of the response you're going to get — you do it because people are dying."