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On air: Is Pakistan getting the attention it deserves?

Ben Sutherland Ben Sutherland | 17:37 UK time, Tuesday, 10 August 2010

pakistansurvivors.jpgDo you remember the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in South-East Asia? How it seemed so many people, across such a wide area, had been affected; the widespread devastation; the millions seeking help?

Well, far more people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan than were by the tsunami. Indeed, throw in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti quake and you're still not near the figure - a total of 14 million in need of humanitarian assistance, according to Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

To put that into context, that is the entire population of a country like Ecuador or Mali, or a megacity like Delhi or Lagos.

Of course, only a tiny fraction of the number of people killed in the tsunami have perished in the floods. Casualties are estimated at 1,600 - around 0.003 percent of the numbers killed in the other disasters.

But does it perhaps seem a bizarre contradiction that more money is raised when more are dead. By definition - and not wishing to seem crass - the dead are beyond help; it is the survivors who need the aid.

The money pledged so far to help survivors in Pakistan is $95,604,766, - although two thirds of that is in the form of "unconfimed pledges" that, if history is any guide, are likely to go unfulfilled.

That equates to $6.82 per survivor. In contrast, after the tsuanmi, $3,348,000,000 was committed for five million survivors - which works out at $669.60 for each of them.

Pakistan is known to be desperate for outside help - the New York Times reports that members of the country's government appear "overwhelmed and daunted by the magnitude of the devastation."

Hina Rabbani Khar, the state minister for economic affairs, broke into tears as she described the plight of her constituency in the Muzaffargarh district of southwestern Punjab to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani during a meeting that was broadcast live on state-run television. "We were not prepared for this kind of a disaster," Ms Khar said, her voice quivering and tears running down her face.

There are now concerns that because of the lukewarm international response, organisations with links to terror groups - including the Taliban - are stepping in to fill the gap.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, has had to issue an appeal for "several hundred million dollars" at a news conference.

Meanwhile the focus has fallen on the leadership - or, some argue, absence of same - of the country's president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari has only now arrived back in the country following a tour of Europe that shoes being thrown at him in Birmingham - a tour that prompted much criticism at home.

Here's Ayaz Amir, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader :

"Even when governments can't cope, they can at least show empathy. That was missing. Who was the first person on the scene? The army chief. This has really cost [Zardari] heavily... The image of President Zardari visiting his chateau in France, while there was devastating flooding in Pakistan: this will have long-term effects."

And here's Zaman Malik, a retired civil servant in Islamabad:

"I was part of the earthquake effort. We had so much more confidence. Today, this is a major disaster but who is in the driving seat?"

Others, however, have defended the president - such as blogger Cafe Pyala:

Were he not the president, would the suffering of the affectees of the biggest floods in Pakistan's history be any less? Would the administration become super-efficient? Isn't the issue of the inherent lack of capacity of the Pakistani state to deal with such crises a bigger issue than Zardari and his jaunts? Criticise him by all means but is a man chucking a couple of shoes in his direction really a bigger story than the tens of millions displaced from their homes? Or have we become so blinded by our rage and the cult of personality that we are willing to jettison all sense of proportion?

Meanwhile, after the initial coverage as the worst of the monsoon struck 10 days ago, the story has somewhat fallen away from the news agenda.

On Monday, for example, the news was dominated by a dispute - in admittedly a very important case - between a 1990s supermodel and an actress best known for a 1960s horror film.

So why has Pakistan dropped down the agenda? Do you wish more was being done? Or do you think there is simply too much to cope with at the moment? Are you embarrassed by the actions of the President, or is there nothing more he can do? Do you worry about groups linked to terror taking over the administration of aid?

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