Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is Pakistan the locus of the perfect storm?

The Pakistan floods, according to some people who should know, are the result of both climate and human failure. So far as climate is concerned, there are very hot temperatures and excessive rainfalls overflowing the banks of the Indus River; human failure to build the required dams and river bank supports has exacerbated the problem. It is only the beginning of what could be a monumental human disaster, especially since Pakistan is a country which does not trust and is not trusted by the west. There are too many stories of collaboration with the Taliban, and harbouring Al Quaeda, and playing the west off against the Afghans, sales of nuclear secrets to rogue states, and the long-standing conflict with India over Kashmir, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and the potential loss of control over the country's nuclear weapons (especially if the government were to fall and the Taliban were to take control) on which to build a relationship of confidence, trust, mutual respect and stability.
Foreign aid merely trickles into the country as people struggle to survive, and the danger of disease grows.
The West, including the U.S., Canada, The European Union...through the International Monetary Fund have provided some relief, but the contributions of individual states lag far behind the massive outpouring of aid that came in the wake of the Haitian disaster.
As one native of Pakistan, now working in the U.S. put it, on "On Point" on NPR, this is a time for the building of a new relationship between America and Pakistan, (and it is not about the amount of money that is poured into Pakistan), but he then goes on to caution, 'If the humanitarian crisis does not provoke genuine compassion and the desire to help, then individuals should not help, because if the offer of aid is not sincere, authentic and motivated by genuine compassion, then it will be seen for what it is, tokenism."
Pakistan has seen and heard the American drones overhead, complete with their cargo of bombs, for many months, and this drama does not enhance the potential of trust from the Pakistani's to America. And yet...
  • Should the government of Pakistan actually fall, and the evidence is that this is one possibility;
  • Should the government be replaced by a group like, or allied to, the Taliban;
  • And Should those nuclear warheads fall into the hands of the new, and clearly then hostile government,
the "west" (especially the United States) would have the kind of wake-up call that it does not want and is clearly not capable of confronting. It is not that the U.S. military is not capable, but that the shift in geopolitics, and the balance of power would be seismic in dimension.
While no one expects an apocalyptic scenario to unfold fully, it is the kind of convergence of so many factors that creates the perfect storm that no one seeks and virtually no one can fully comprehend. And here we have the makings of that perfect storm:
  1. climate change,
  2. national government weakness and incompetence verging on incapacity to govern,
  3. lost income both to families and to the nation,
  4. starvation and mounting spectre of mortality rates of unconscionable proportions,
  5. excessive rains for at least the rest of this month according to reasonable estimates,
  6. a kind of "untouchable" quality to the state in relation to the rest of the world,
  7. the existence of a small number of nuclear weapons
  8. the proximity to an extremely unstable Afghanistan
  9. the clear motivation of both Taliban and Al Quaeda to acquire nuclear weapons, whether on the open market, or under the table, with the complicity of rebel insurgents in Pakistan
  10. a large Muslim population, under attack in the public mind in the west, regardless of how unfair that bigotry really is
  11. a world tired of multiple cosmic forces seemingly released in many different corners, needing massive human assistance to avoid further disaster
  12. a fragile, at best, global political system and will, to address common problems with a joint concerted plan
and I am confident that the above list is only a beginning, and that more expert witnesses than this one could provide even more factors playing into the centrifuge that could quickly become the top story in all countries...
 One is moved to ask, "Where does the world turn, when the humanitarian resources are stretched to their limit, and the United Nations is limping along at least in public opinion, and the U.S. is already fully engaged in a decade plus of war, depression, obesity, debt, and unemployment....and the G8/G20 leaves individual states to their own plans without concurring even on a common accountable approach to national and international debt?

Here is a piece of motivation for every human to read, digest, and then act upon, by the former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Posted August 25, 2010, from The Huffington Post

The World's Biggest Emergency

Gordon Brown
We can't carry on like this: an emergency of incredible proportions only half funded; vital days used up talking about aid fatigue -- and what we have not done -- instead of urgent need -- what we now have to do.
The Pakistan floods are the world's biggest emergency -- 60,000 square miles under water, 20 million people displaced, 14 million in need of emergency health care, six million short of food, two and a half million homeless. It is a tragedy whose book of names of lives lost, presumed dead, will never be complete. And my abiding image is of the outstretched hand of a young child begging for food that will arrive too late.
Too many are without help and also without hope. And the worst condition of all is sorrow without hope, pain without end, suffering without relief. In my view four steps must be taken urgently. Every country should commit this week to double its aid and offer to match private contributions dollar for dollar. With president Zardari's agreement governments should offer military as well as civilian support to repair the damage. Governments must now agree to pre-finance the Central Emergency Response Fund. We should agree on the need for a new UN civilian reconstruction agency drawing on the world's engineers, builders and public health workers to repair bridges, roads, houses, schools and farms.
Of course I understand that this time the destruction has come not in a few cataclysmic moments or hours, but over many days in a relentless and rising tide of catastrophe. And so this is a tragedy compounded by paradox. For while the scale of the casualties gets greater and greater, the steadily evolving nature of this crisis -- the spreading floods, the constantly higher water levels, the gathering hunger crisis -- have made the sense of emergency seem less.
The crisis did not appear in a flash that shocked the world's conscience; but it must now command the world's most urgent resolve.
We know Pakistan cannot cope on its own. UN agencies, global aid organizations and individual governments have provided food rations for one million of the hungry, and one million of the homeless have some kind of shelter. But the need is so much more and the lives, livelihoods and health of millions more hang in the balance. A crisis this great demands what President Kennedy called "A grand and global alliance...against the common enemies of man."
First the way to help all aid organizations on the ground move more aid further and more quickly is to send a signal of enhanced help now and in weeks to come: to announce both an immediate doubling of aid contributions and that governments will match dollar for dollar every dollar donated privately to the organizations on the ground. Potential donors should be reminded constantly that one payment of $25 will feed a family of six for a week and one payment of $250 could house a family long into the future. And we should not say this once, but over and over. Attention must be paid for as long as the crisis lasts and the recovery takes.
Second, mobilization of the scale of aid we need requires not just civilian organizations, but the armies and air forces of the world bringing not weapons but sustenance. And while they must respect the independence of the humanitarian agencies, only they can provide the heavy lift capacity that is needed. The reconstruction work still to be done in Haiti is not an excuse: a world that can fight so many wars simultaneously can answer two great crises at the same time.
Third we must support the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund with greater backstop reserves to provide immediate help without waiting for the usual whip-round of nations. Because this is not the first nor the last of sudden emergencies, we need to properly pre-fund this agency without delay.
Fourth, schools and hospitals, canals, roads and communications must all be repaired. This requires expertise as well as resources. I have proposed a global reconstruction corps to offer civilian help -- engineers, doctors, builders -- to build homes, rebuild the schools, staff the hospitals and get agriculture and industry moving again. We have set up a British corps -- and a global volunteer corps is more important and imperative than ever. To make it effective on the ground in Pakistan we need of course an agreement with all Pakistani parties that they will use and work with a Reconstruction Corps.
But we do have to ask ourselves one big question: If we cannot be moved to do more when 20 million people are stranded, some under water, all homeless, then when will be do more? If we cannot the answer the summons of a global ethic that, no matter how distant we are all neighbors -- if we cannot see that when we see people dying on our TV screens -- when will we as a global community rise to our shared humanity? In words we have heard before, if not now, when? and where and how?

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