Why do we often fail to fund adequate disaster relief?

The worst disaster ever seen,” said the UN Secretary General today in describing the Pakistan floods in the summer of 2010. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has seen many huge disasters around the world: the Haiti earthquake, Katrina, and the big SE Asia tsunami.

Over 15 million are already estimated affected, and it is still raining. Already reports include deaths from starvation and estimates of huge numbers ill from unsanitary water. Three weeks have gone by and the American media seem to give more time to discussing the political and military implications than the humanitarian need. Reports of both public and private aid seem meager, especially in comparison to Haiti and Katrina.

Americans can perhaps put the Pakistan floods in perspective by imagining the Mississippi River flooding from near-Canada to the Gulf. If the entire populations of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana were homeless or fighting back the flood, it would be somewhat comparable. And the Pakistan flood will get worse.

In the photo above, complements of IslamicReliefUSA, parents grieve for a dead child. Many more have lost contact with family and friends but have no way to find them.

Yes, there are many reasons we can give for not helping out with our concern, time, and money: distance, cultural differences, giving fatigue, and so on. But how legitimate are these rationale?

Answers to this question needs to be made at political as well as personal levels.

I don’t have answers yet as to the deep personal dimension of what to do? It would be so much easier if I could forgot this and go on about my work. It would be a lot easier if I had a framework for deciding how to divide up my helping activities and charity so that they address all that suffer, from family, to community, to local ghetto, to victims of this and forthcoming natural disasters, to those billions that still live in poverty.

I would welcome any suggestions on the meaning of the Pakistan flood disaster for us, how we can get it in perspective, and how we can be ready for more.

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