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