Disaster Relief, Then and Now

Aug 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Jang, The News

Ahmad Noorani, journalist or political operative?Ahmad Noorani writes for The News today a curious article about flood donations received from the international community. The thesis of Mr Noorani’s column appears to be that the present government is not as effective as the Musharraf regime in 2005. Despite the author’s intentions, though, his presentation of facts to back his claim are questionable at best. Often they are simply incorrect.

According to Noorani, “the total present pledges so far stand at only $777 million and the actual money received so far is only $82 million”. This is false.

According to data compiled by The Guardian, committed funding (funds that have been received) stood at $687,228,789 on 26 August. And additional $324,309,146 in uncommitted pledges (funds that have been promised, but not yet delivered) is outstanding. That means that the total present pledges can be no less than $1 Billion.

The largest donor is the United States, which has given $155,930,000 and pledged an additional $50,000,000. The next two largest donors are Saudi Arabia ($74,448,904) and United Kingdom ($64,765,001). In addition to monetary donations, many countries have provided “in kind” donations of foods and transportation, such as over 30 helicopters that are being provided by the US.

According to Noorani,

“A spokesman for the Economic Affairs Division confirmed to The News that by the weekend the total aid received in cash stood at $82 million while relief goods worth $60 million had also arrived, making the total foreign aid received at $142 million.”

It is not clear from Mr Noorani’s column what account the representative from EAD confirmed, but the claim that “the total foreign aid received” was not more than $142 million is not possibly correct.

It is also of concern that Mr Noorani compares international response to the 2005 earthquake to the response to the 2010 floods without considering the very different contexts of these two disasters. In fact, there are several important differences between the two events that analysts believe to be responsible for the difference in international aid.

The death toll in the 2005 earthquake was over 73,000. The latest reports put the number of deaths from flooding at around 1,600. While the number of deaths attributed to the floods is expected to grow, it is a slower killer than the earthquake, potentially making it seem less urgent to many international donors. According to one NGO, disasters that are more quickly destructive raise more relief money.

World Vision typically raises 10 to 15 times more from donors responding to a hurricane or earthquake as opposed to a flood, said Randy Strash, World Vision’s strategy director for emergency response.

There are other obvious reasons as well: The economy in 2005 was much stronger than the economy in 2007, making many donors feel that they can give more of their personal funds to help others. And, while the worst crisis in recent history, the flooding comes only a few months after the earthquakes in Haiti resulting in what many are calling “donor fatigue”.

None of these points are addressed in Mr Noorani’s column.

It is also curious that, when describing donations, Mr Noorani switches between currencies without providing any constant by which to compare. After some basic conversions using the website XE.com, it appears that some of Mr Noorani’s data points may be misleading.

For example, according to Mr Noorani, the total demands of provincial governments amount to over Rs.1 Trillion, or $11.8 Billions in US dollars. While no one suggests that the amounts currently raised for relief and reconstruction are anywhere near adequate, none of the recent crises saw such a large amount of donations.

The most recent crisis before the floods, the earthquake in Haiti, has received a pledge from the international community for $5.3 Billions over the next two years. This is less than the $7.5 Billion pledged by the USA alone last fall even before the floods devastated the country. Furthermore, the pledge did not come until April, four months after the disaster. While everyone will hopefully do more to help the flood victims, saying that fundraising is a failure if it does not achieve such levels as Mr Noorani suggests does not provide a realistic metric for evaluation.

Given the introduction and conclusion so the column, the author’s intent seems to be to suggest that the present government is not as effective as the Musharraf regime. What the author actually does, however, is make false comparisons and ignore important qualitative and quantitative data that explain differences in the response to the 2005 and 2010 disasters. While we hope that Mr Musharraf is able to raise some funds to help the country, it is important that media reports of donations be accurate and impartial so as to encourage everyone to give generously. Misleading reports such as the one filed by Mr Noorani do not help.

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