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Loose Cannon: Pakistan's hour of need

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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Written by Greg Beneteau

Nine years after 9/11, is the West capable of distinguishing friend from foe?

The answer should be yes. After all, we’ve endured nearly a decade of conflict stemming from the War on Terror – we should at least be able to identify who or what we’re fighting against.

“It’s Al Qaeda,” we should say, or the Taliban, or an extremist dogma exported by a very small number of violent individuals.

The West was unprepared for the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, or the people who planned those attacks. Yet instead of taking to heart the old adage “know thy enemy,” some people continue to see enemies everywhere.

People living in Pakistan, long a hotbed of Islamic militarism, are seemingly bearing the brunt of this misdirected suspicion.

Over the past four weeks, unprecedented flooding in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and surrounding regions has killed at least 1600 people and affected more than 20 million others, according to United Nations estimates.

More than 3.5 million children are a currently at risk of water-borne diseases, malaria, skin infections and malnutrition. Vast swathes of farmland have been ruined, countless heads of livestock lost and billions of dollars of infrastructure wiped out by the waters. While Pakistan looks ahead to an uncertain future, floodwaters in many affected areas continue to rise.

Yet the response by the international community to this catastrophe has been described by many as tepid. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, only two thirds of the $460 million requested by the U.N. for relief was raised by international donors.

In Canada, the government gradually increased its flood relief package from $2 million to more than $40 million, making it the fourth largest international contributor of aid to Pakistan.

This week, Canada also extended the deadline of a special matching program for private donations. Until October 3, individuals who donate to select charities will have their contributions matched by the federal government.

But the program can only work if Canadians open their hearts and wallets to the people of Pakistan. So far, the total amount raised by private donations isn’t being reported, which is a bad sign. Charities including Oxfam, Save the Children and Care Canada have also gone on the record to say that the response falls far short of what is needed.

The timing of the disaster has likely impacted the speed of the humanitarian response (the warm summer weather tends to make people distracted).

However, I fear that the slow call to action is partly because of Pakistan’s unflattering reputation.

Many are worried that private donations will line the pockets of Pakistan’s corruption-riddled civilian and military leadership.

Canadian charities like Oxfam have worked hard to put these fears to rest, filming and blogging about their relief work on the ground so that Canadians can see first-hand how their money is being spent.

There is also a nebulous concern about funding terrorism in regions like Swat, where the Pakistani military has struggled to contain a Taliban insurgency for the past several years.

The Pakistan government has occasionally even brokered “truces” with the militants, effectively handing them control of the region and its people.

But no matter what the political situation on the ground, we must remember that ordinary Pakistanis are not our enemies. If anything, we should do more to show the people Pakistan that the world will not abandon them to death and despair.

Last week, the Guelph community raised more than $55,000 for Pakistan’s flood victims. It’s a good start, but remember that this is the same community that raised more than $1 million for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Over the next three weeks, Guelphites can set an example for the rest of the country by helping our friends in Pakistan in their hour of need.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

 

Pakistan Flood relief: Donations made by Oct. 3, 2010, to the following charities will be matched by federal government:

• Canadian Red Cross
• Oxfam Canada
• World Vision Canada
• Save the Children Canada
• Care Canada
• SOS Children's Villages
• Doctors Without Borders/MSF
• UNICEF Canada
• International Development and Relief Foundation
• Development and Peace
• Canadian Lutheran World Relief
• Islamic Relief Canada
• Human Concern International
• The Humanitarian Coalition
• The United Church of Canada
• CHF
• Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
• Focus Humanitarian Assistance

 

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