British Columbians donating to Pakistan flood relief, but negative perceptions hampering efforts

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      The article was updated on August 25, 2010.

      It shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently it does.

      “There are many realities in Pakistan and many kinds of Pakistanis, just like in any other country,” Amal Rana, a Pakistani activist living in Vancouver, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “People need to understand that the majority of Pakistanis don’t believe in terrorism, that the majority of Pakistanis are peaceful.”

      Since massive floods began to ravage swaths of her country of origin in late July, Rana and other Pakistani-Canadians have been working in the Lower Mainland to raise funds for those affected by the natural disaster. But, she said, negative perceptions of the country and its government are making things challenging.

      Rana is on the board of directors for the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy and a member of the Pakistan Action Network, a Vancouver-based group that aims to promote democracy and social justice in Pakistan. She expressed concern that funding is being adversely affected by false images of Pakistan that characterize the South Asian nation as a failed state rife with Islamic extremism.

      “Pakistan is perceived as not doing enough—by conservatives in the U.S. and the Canadian government and others—in terms of the war on terror,” she explained. “And is blamed, to some degree, for what’s happening in terms of the Taliban and the Afghan situation.”

      But, Rana continued, the reality on the ground is very different. “There is a really successful civil society that is thriving, that is countering what the Taliban is doing,” she said.

      While the amount of donations is slowly beginning to grow, what has so far been pledged remains a fraction of what Canadians gave to Haiti after an earthquake struck the island nation earlier this year.

      According to a Globe and Mail report, one week after fundraising efforts for Pakistan’s flood victims began, Canadian charities had raised $200,000. One week after the Haiti earthquake, that number was $3.5 million. Factor in the number of people affected by the two natural disasters and the disparity is even more poignant. Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has said that 20 million people have been affected by the floods. Haiti’s earthquake hit three million people.

      Farrukh Alam, president of the Pakistan-Canada Association, also said that negative perceptions of Pakistan could be affecting donor efforts. But he emphasized that the differences in the nature of the two disasters is also likely impacting donations.

      “With Haiti, the damage was assessed right away,” he explained. “We knew there were a lot of deaths, a lot of damage. But with this, really, people have tended not to grasp what we have here in Pakistan.”

      Reached on his cellular phone on August 18 on the way to a radio station to talk about the floods, Alam described the enormity of the current tragedy in Pakistan as so huge that the need for aid is simply incomprehensible.

      “A lot more is needed,” he said. “Actually, more than we can even imagine.”

      Women carry aid distributed by the Pakistan Red Crescent in response to the August flooding. Canadian Red Cross photo.

      However, Alam remained positive, noting that fundraising efforts within the province’s Pakistani and Muslim communities are going very well. He said that members of those groups had already donated an estimated $100,000. Then, in a follow-up interview on August 20, Alam said that an August 19 a fundraising effort hosted by Red 93.1 FM raised a further $180,000, and that a second push is scheduled to take place Thursday, August 26.

      That endeavor is receiving the support of a number of radio stations, Alam said, including News1130, CBC Radio One, RJ1200, Sher-E-Punjab, and Red FM. Donations will go to the Canadian Red Cross.

      The provincial government has also pledged $150,000 in aid for Pakistan’s flood victims. And on August 22, the federal government announced that it would match Canadians’ private donations to registered charities from August 2 through to September 12.

      Further pledge drives are also in the works, Alam said. “So good things are happening.”

      But he expressed concern about the relative lack of donations coming from Canadian citizens who do not identify themselves with Pakistani or Muslim communities.

      “The problem is, the mainstream Canadian population has not come to aid,” Alam said. “We have tried and tried.”

      He also singled out the Conservative government for not doing enough to help those in Pakistan. Alam noted that in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Canadian military currently has a lot of equipment that could have been very useful in assessing the initial extent of the damage caused by the floods.

      Alam said that the Pakistan-Canada Association has requested that the Conservative government make helicopters and other equipment in Afghanistan available for use in helping Pakistan’s flood victims, but has so far not received a response.

      According to an August 17 Canadian Red Cross media release, the organization is working with the Canadian International Development Agency in Pakistan and has now delivered $1 million in federal relief supplies.

      But Ottawa’s failure to act in the initial period of flooding was also criticized by Derrick O’Keefe, cochair of and a collaborator on Malalai Joya’s memoir A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice.

      O’Keefe went on to slam the Obama administration as well, arguing that the U.S. military is in an even better position to help than the Canadian government, but has still done relatively little.

      “The U.S. has a lot of the equipment [in Afghanistan] necessary for flood rescue and relief in the form of helicopters,” he argued during a phone interview. “I’ve read that they’ve sent some [helicopters] now, to Pakistan. But in the days when they were most-needed, in the days of the flooding, they weren’t able to free up any of their Chinook transport helicopters. Afghanistan is full of them and they’ve got 100,000 troops there, massive resources that could be mobilized for humanitarian relief, but weren’t.”

      O’Keefe also noted that despite the ongoing humanitarian disaster, the Obama administration has continued to carry out unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan’s north.

      Like Rana and Alam, O’Keefe expressed concern for the possibility that false perceptions of Pakistan are adversely affecting donations to victims of the floods.

      “I could speculate that it is related to a general perception of Pakistan as being an enemy country,” he said.

      Heavy flooding caused by monsoon rains in Punjab province, near Multan, Pakistan, on August 15. UN Photo/Evan Schneider photo.

      As of August 24, the death toll for the floods was an estimated 1,300 to 1,600 people. However, Hossam Elsharkawi, director of international emergencies and recovery for the Canadian Red Cross, warned that the worst is likely still to come.

      He explained that after floods like those Pakistan has suffered, a “textbook” turn of events would be the spread of waterborne diseases.

      “The worst-case scenario is cholera,” Elsharkawi told the Straight by phone from his office in Ottawa. “It is highly infectious and it can spread like fire.”

      What’s more, he continued, as waters settle, valleys flooded to the horizon are becoming ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which are vectors for malaria, dengue fever, and other parasitic infections.

      Elsharkawi described the probability of the spread of these sorts of diseases as “very high”, going so far as to guess it is probably already happening.

      “I would anticipate that the casualty rate will be corrected to a much higher figure, versus the 1,400 that is being quoted now,” he said.

      According to Elsharkawi, in past disasters where diseases like malaria have run rampant, death tolls can rise to the tens of thousands. “And if you have cholera spreading, you’re talking in the hundreds of thousands.”

      Responding to these realities, the CRC—which has had an office in Pakistan since an earthquake struck Kashmir in 2005—has made epidemic prevention its primary focus, Elsharkawi said. “Positioning and prestocking some of the things you would need to respond to those epidemics, should they hit.”

      He cautioned that with the scope of the disaster being what it is, the international community cannot pretend that it will be able to help everybody in Pakistan.

      Alam emphasized that with the number of those affected by the flood now in the tens of millions, it is simply not a time to dwell on politics.

      “What about the human-being factor?” he asked. “Shouldn’t they be treated no different than any other human? We should put negative connotations and all this talk on the side and help as one human being will help another human being.”

      Anybody wanting to donate money to the Canadian Red Cross’s relief effort in Pakistan can go to or contribute via the Straight homepage at

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      Aug 20, 2010 at 5:32pm

      Google 9/11 dancing in the streets. You will see a side of Pakistan which makes you want to help less. By and large they hate the west.

      Where is Saudi Arbia and their aid?

      6 4Rating: +2

      Travis Lupick

      Aug 20, 2010 at 5:56pm

      Thanks "Google". (Note sarcasm.) That's a central point of the article. That there is more than one side of Pakistan (a nation of over 170 million people, it's worth noting). On 9/11, some were dancing in the streets, some were lamenting the loss of other humans' lives.

      Also, while I'm definitely no fan of Saudi Arabia (which is currently shopping for a doctors willing to <a href=" a man</a> via punitively damaging his spinal cord), the kingdom has <a href=" $105 million</a> in aid to Pakistan.

      5 4Rating: +1


      Aug 20, 2010 at 7:53pm

      "some" were dancing is the street is perhaps what you want to see, or what you define by the exact number shown in the video. The fact of the matter is those videos are a small window into a large reality. If you polled Pakistan the VAST majority would say they hate westerners. BTW did you know that i have Pakistan government has recently been proved to FUND Al-Qaede. Google that! :)

      Here is what I say to them now....Allah aint so Akbar now is he?

      4 5Rating: -1

      Travis Lupick

      Aug 20, 2010 at 9:15pm

      To "@travis": I didn't need to Google Pakistanis dancing in the streets; I remember watching the video on CNN nine years ago. And I don't need to Google your reference to the Pakistani government funding al-Qaeda. Here's the link for <a href=" one</a>.

      Small correction: If we're thinking of the same story (<a href="">The Afghan War Logs</a>), it's the Taliban that Pakistan's ISI is funding, not al-Qaeda (though if evidence of money going to the latter was found, I would not be totally shocked). And none of this is anything new. The close ties between Pakistan's intelligence agencies and the Taliban have been known since long before 9/11. Read something by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist <a href=" Coll</a> or <a href=" Rashid</a>. The U.S. government was directly involved in the establishment of the connections and monetary support networks that we're talking about.

      For the record, I definitely would not recommend anybody looking to help those affected by the floods give money to Pakistan's government. That's why the article links to the Canadian Red Cross.

      I'll let you have the final say.

      4 4Rating: 0


      Aug 20, 2010 at 9:59pm

      Pakistan built their brand...lets have the public opinion have their final say. i know where my 5% of gross earnings for donations are going this year..and it isn't anywhere near people who hate what I stand for.

      4 6Rating: -2

      Richard Pearce

      Aug 21, 2010 at 12:56pm

      Well, I see at least one of the members of the OMB (Order of Muslim Bashers) has show up in an article that highlights the effects of the years of effort that he and his order have put into the matter.

      That Pakistan has lost more soldiers and innocent civilians in its fight against the Taliban since 9/11 than the US and Canada combined matters nothing, given that they are trying a more nuanced approach than the 'kill them all' one that the OMB holds is the only tactic allowed.

      That Pakistan has a greater rate of female participation in politics than the US or Canada, let alone Haiti, matters nothing, given that they are a Muslim majority country.

      And the widespread corruption in Haiti was not a concern when it came to raising funds for them, for some reason.

      A deluge of rainfall the likes of which has not been seen there for decades has overwhelmed the systems that a country dealing with a vast number of problems that the colonial system played a part in creating had in place to prevent this sort of flooding, a massive amount of crops have been lost or damaged (roughly the equivalent of the crops grown in all of Ontario, to give one a sense of scale), tens of thousands will sicken or die in the next few weeks if certain vital supplies do not reach them in sufficient quantities soon, and tens of millions of people worldwide who are struggling to survive on the bare minimum of food will face rising food prices for the next couple of years if the supplies to get new crops in the ground aren't in the hands of the affected farmers in 6 weeks.

      The flood might be half way around the world, but the effects of not opening your wallets (as well as your hearts) now will show up in your grocery store next year.

      3 5Rating: -2

      Richard Pearce

      Aug 21, 2010 at 1:09pm

      Oh, for those looking for a single site that contains things like updated information on who has donated how much (through official channels, a lot of the aid won't go through FTS tracked systems), expert opinion of how much of what is needed where and when (as well as the likely consequences of it NOT getting there in time), maps, and links to official sites of various agencies

      3 5Rating: -2


      Aug 24, 2010 at 7:59pm

      No one from Haiti flew planes into the twin towers....NO ONE from Haiti killed innocent westerners.... I don't care what Haiti does with my money, they could burn it for all I care...Pakistan will not see a dime of my hard earned cash...Let their Allah and al Qaeda & fellow Muslim brothers help them.

      6 6Rating: 0

      Martin C

      Aug 28, 2010 at 8:34pm

      Before you start calling me names, please let me remind you that Pakistan bought earlier this year a brand spanking new fleet of 20 F-16, at 40 million $ apiece, plus maintenance and other fees. They will be used not to fight the Taliban in Waziristan, but to patrol Kashmir and the Indian border. And as we speak, Pakistan keeps on spending hundreds of millions stockpiling nukes. The tab for these lovely spendings will be picked up by the impoverished taxpayers, since the national government sponsors one of the world's biggest tax evasion program that allows the richest Pakistani to get away without paying their share. For example, billionaire and leader of opposition Nawaz Sharif hasn't paid taxes in 2005, 2006 & 2007.

      I don't make this much money, but I donated as much as I could for the Haiti relief. However, as much as I feel for the fishermen who lost a fortune in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I did not donate my hard-earned money to citizens of the world's richest country. Likewise, I won't be donating to Pakistani, and neither will a lot of moslem people I know. Call me heartless, but why would I give a penny if even Nawaz Sharif feels too poor to help his own people?

      It's easy to generalize and point the finger at those who didn't not donate money to Pakistan flood relief, but rather than being xenophobic Islam-bashing rednecks, could it be that most Canadians just feel the way I do?

      4 6Rating: -2