AUSTRALIANS have a ”compassion blind spot” when it comes to the Pakistan floods, says World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello. World Vision has raised about $785,000 in the three weeks of the Pakistan disaster. At the same stage after the earthquake in Haiti in January, it had raised close to $10 million. ”A humanitarian disaster of this size anywhere else would have had, in my judgment, a much quicker, a much more generous, a much more instinctive response,” he said. Other aid agencies also report their donation hotlines are silent. Pakistan’s floods have caused unprecedented devastation, worse than the Asian tsunami or Haiti earthquake.
A population almost the size of Australia’s is homeless, their farms destroyed, their children hungry and at risk of disease. A million homes are gone or damaged, 6 million people need emergency aid, and at least 1600 are dead.
In explaining why people give for some disasters and not others, aid officials say donors respond first to dramatic images of devastation: the floods have instead been a gradual disaster. As well, the Australian media have been focused on the election.
The Pakistan disaster also lacks a huge death toll, although the extent of devastation and the number of survivors needing help are far greater than for the tsunami or in Haiti.
Aid workers also talk of the ”Pakistan factor”, the country’s image as a geopolitical hotspot, with its links to the Taliban and connection to the Afghanistan war.
Muhammad Anwar Shad, 54, who has lived in Sydney for 22 years, said 150 of his relatives were still stranded in Pakistan. ”My whole family village has been destroyed,” he said. ”Their health is all very bad. They have nothing to eat and there is no running water.”
The Australian government has so far committed about $34 million in aid for the floods.
In a bid to raise awareness of the scale of the disaster, actress Angelina Jolie reportedly donated $US100,000 on Friday.