Special Representative to Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, spoke at an Asia Society panel today, to appeal for foreign aid for the devastated flood survivors. He urged the public to take out their cell phones and text SWAT to 50555 to donate to the UNHCR fund.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the floods have already affected eight percent of Pakistanis, inundating one-fifth of the country. Almost three weeks after the flooding first began, the scale of the calamity has yet to be realized.
The casualty rate at the moment is much lower than those of other natural disasters such as the 2004 Asian tsunami, the South Asian earthquake in 2005 or Haiti's recent earthquake. However, Pakistan has lost crops and livestock worth billions of rupees, a sector almost sixty percent of Pakistanis rely upon for income.
"We will reprioritize our budget to rehabilitate them to reconstruct the physical infrastructure," Qureshi said. "But this is beyond national resources. We need international assistance and we need it now."
Pakistan's rock star turned political activist Salman Ahmad, known as Pakistan's Bono, or as Holbrooke pointed out, "Bono is the Irish Salman Ahmad," spoke on a topic that had yet to be discussed at the event.
"This is a defining moment in Pakistan," Ahmad said. "This flood has set back Pakistan in a huge way. Out of 175 million people, 100 million are under 25. Those young people are skeptical, and they feel abandoned by the world. The international community has to win hearts and minds of those 100 million youth in Pakistan."
So far, as each speaker at the event emphasized, international donations have been sluggish to help millions of those victims who have been displaced by ferocity of the floods. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID, as one of the three key speakers at the event explained that the US has begun working with Pakistan to detect early cases of cholera and other fatal diarrheal illnesses.
"Our commitment to relief efforts, as it continues to intensify, will also transfer to a recovery effort...to help the tremendous loss of the infrastructure," Shah said. "Your acting now...does save lives."
Is the international community skeptical of donating to Pakistan, a country battling Islamic militancy? What could Pakistan's government do to encourage and expedite essential funding for a rehabilitation project that may take several years to complete?