Rock-Paper-Scissors of Natural Disasters

Officials say it could take Pakistan up to five years to recover from the flooding

For whatever reason (and I think there are many) the earthquake that hit Haiti got a whole lot more attention than the flooding that is currently wreaking havoc in Pakistan.

I know this is too simplistic to take seriously, but it’s a little bit like some natural disasters always beat others in the game. In this case, the drama of an earthquake trumps the slow devastation of a flood.

So, chalk it up to an increasingly short attention span?

That and the fact that Americans in general feel more warm fuzzy feelings toward Haitians than Pakistanis– and, frankly, feel less threatened by Haiti than Pakistan.

I imagine it’s also got something to do with the fact that very few Americans have traveled to Pakistan while thousands of college students (or former students) have notched their volunteer service belt with a trip to Haiti to help poor people. Most of them have tales to tell of their own discomfort (and dislike for things like tropical-sized cockroaches and other creepy-crawlies) and the wonder that “poor people who have so little can be so happy” when they themselves are so unhappy and have so much.

I’m afraid that when it comes to responding to natural disasters, our human tendency is to think of ourselves first in our giving.

A displaced flood victim clutches a sibling in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district on Aug. 16. The young girl is crying because someone stole donated rice from her.

After writing this I decided to see if I could find some data to compare these two recent disasters. I found an article on the Globe and Mail website titled Why Western Donors are Snubbing Pakistan After Giving to Haiti. It’s got a lot more substance than my rant. The chart below is from that source.

How far the fundraising for Pakistan is lagging
Total Funding as of Aug. 16/10 Affected population Funding per affected person
Pakistan floods $229-million (U.S.) 14 million $16.36
Haiti earthquake (2010) $3.3-billion (U.S.) 3 million $1,087.33
Kashmir earthquake (2005) $1.2-billion (U.S.) 3 million $388.33
Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami (2004) $6.2-billion (U.S.) 5 million $1,249.80

2 thoughts on “Rock-Paper-Scissors of Natural Disasters

  1. Bob says:

    Well, I think the disasters are too different to be compared directly. True, Pakistan is a huge disaster, but right now the death toll is 1,600. Haiti’s final death toll was over 250,000 and the tsunamai death toll was over 280,000.

    • Ruth Hubbard says:

      I see your point, but also know the death toll in Pakistan is likely to rise with time, and more rapidly without adequate response. Still think that if the situation was identical, Americans would respond more generously to Haiti than Pakistan.

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