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Leader: Aid for Pakistan

25 August 2010

Aid for Pakistan

THE 2004 Asian tsunami set a benchmark in charitable response. A global total of £3.43 billion was pledged after the tidal wave that killed an estimated quarter of a million people and made half a million homeless. In the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee raised £300 million, to which was added £75 million from the Government and £50 million given to other charities. There were several factors that inflated this response, however: the relative affluence of pre-recession days, the Christmas factor, the availability of dramatic footage, and the involvement of many Western holidaymakers. Compared with this, the initial response to the Pakistan floods has been low: perhaps £40 million given to UK charities so far, plus what the Government has pledged.

The unfortunate concurrence of the floods with a row about the alleged support for terrorism in Pakistan might have been a factor in staying the hand of potential donors; but the main factor is an inability to grasp the scale of the disaster. Inundation is a dramatic event, but passes in a short while, leaving its victims to cope with unphotogenic mud and rubble. This is the dangerous time: relatively few people were drowned, but many millions face disease, homelessness, loss of livelihood, and hunger — drawn-out suffering, which, because it resembles common poverty, attracts sympathy, but little else. Yet most of the victims, though poor, are used to being self-sufficient, and may need only relatively little assistance over the next year or so to restore their fortunes. It requires a stable, united, and efficient government to cope with such a long-term disaster, and the government of Pakistan is none of these things.

Giving, in such circumstances, is more of an act of faith than it ought to be, but not giving is an unacceptable alternative for those who believe in a compassionate God. Donors must accept that an element of organisational chaos accompanies every disaster, even in a developed country such as the United States. The larger aid agencies are experienced at working in difficult conditions, and judicious giving to smaller charities can be of disproportionate benefit. As for the politics of the victims, there is nothing more likely to foment radicalism than neglect in times of want.

Claudy cover-up

A REPORT by a police ombudsman found this week that Fr James Chesney, suspected of planning the fatal bombings in Claudy, near Derry, in Northern Ireland in 1972, was quietly moved across the border by Cardinal Conway after discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw. Part of the process of healing for the families of the victims is to recognise that covering things up was what authorities did as a matter of course. Church, police, and politicians at the time saw no reason for openness. This did not mean that they shirked dealing with problems, but, as hindsight shows, the need for secrecy and discretion were too often given precedence over justice. The present day is thought to be more open and transparent. Whether similar revelations await us in 40 years’ time remains to be seen.

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