By David Hughes
Sir Nick Young, chairman of the British Red Cross, was the soul of discretion on the Today programme this morning when discussing the Disaster Emergency Committee's fund-raising for the Pakistan flood disaster. Pressed repeatedly on whether the public was proving less generous over this disaster than it has been in the past, he refused to rise to the bait and insisted that the public response was immensely generous.
In fact, the figures tell a very different story. The DEC has raised £7 million for Pakistan in the first week of the appeal. That is an impressive figure - until you compare the donations made after the Haiti earthquake early this year. In the first week, the British public raised £42 million, precisely seven times as much. Why the discrepancy? The scale of the destruction and the death toll in Haiti were both immense while in Pakistan the death toll has been far, far lower. Yet the UN has classified it as the biggest natural disaster ever recorded in terms of the number of people affected. AP carried this report on Monday:
The number of people suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan exceeds 13 million - more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the United Nations said Monday. The death toll in each of those three disasters was much higher than the 1,500 people killed so far in the floods that first hit Pakistan two weeks ago. But the U.N. estimates that 13.8 million people have been affected - over 2 million more than the other disasters combined.
There can be no doubting the biblical scale of the disaster - so why the relative reluctance to give? There's no doubt that a big part of the problem was the shockingly crass behaviour of Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari who was swanning around Europe while his country was struggling with its biggest ever crisis. If he couldn't be bothered to do anything, then why should we?
But I suspect it runs deeper than Zardari's spectacular stupidity. The image of Pakistan in this country has never been lower. The 7/7 bomb attacks of 2005 and the foiling of numerous subsequent plots has inextricably linked Pakistan with terrrorism. Could this have led people to turn a deaf ear to appeals for help?