Tuesday, October 11, 2005
The Politics of Compassion
Are you as weary as I that compassion has become politicized?
As news of the Pakistan earthquakes broke, nations around the world offered their assistance in the form of cash and crews. It is a scenario with which we’ve become all too familiar, lately: In the face of unimaginable disaster, strangers and nations-estranged overcoming the usual barriers to lend a helping hand.
Almost utopian, no?
According to The Independent, a British publication, Western governments are now stepping up their pledges for earthquake relief effort because their initial response to the disaster was condemned as insufficient by Pakistan.
“We need help," they said.
“We will help you,” we said.
“Is that all you can do?”
The United States, under pressure to increase a pledge of $500,000 —considered almost derisory by many Pakistanis when it was made over the weekend—said we really meant to send $50-million. Pesky little decimal points!
Although we’re going to spend billions to clean up and rebuild our Gulf Coast states, our initial offerings were labeled as "peanuts" by Qazi Hussain, the leader of the Pakistani opposition party Jamat Islami.
Turns out we Yanks weren’t the only ones getting yanked by the intended recipients of our charity. The Brits also increased their initial pledge to £1m for the effort, and have promised to send more soon.
Shame is sometimes a good thing.
But what does it say about nations when the generosity of private businesses and individuals is raising eyebrows when compared to initial government pledges which were arguably low.
The Independent notes a $500,000 donation by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest business tycoon. That's half of the British Government's increased pledge, and five times the amount the UK originally planned to give.
It is interesting to note and compare who’s contributing what to the earthquake relief efforts.
According to The Independent:
The European Union has deployed aid workers to stricken parts of Pakistan and allocated €3.6m (£2.47m) in initial aid.
Kuwait has donated $100m and Yemen has said it will send two aid planes. South Korea, for its part, announced it would provide $3m in aid, while a 46-member search and rescue team including 18 medical officers from Malaysia was due to leave yesterday for Pakistan. Malaysia has also pledged $1m in aid. Australia lifted its contribution from $380,000 to $4.2m, with the possibility of more if it was needed.
Pakistan said Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Spain had sent sniffer dogs to help with the rescue efforts, while specialist rescue teams were sent over the weekend by Britain, France, China and Turkey. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands have also sent help.
Washington's upwards revision of our initial $100,000 pledge is getting some mileage in placating the Pakistani’s, who had tagged it as inadequate...a point that’s hard to refute when you learn that Sri Lanka, one of the most serious victims of the tsunami, which is still struggling to rebuild itself, has also pledged $100,000.
You might think every US dollar would count in Pakistan, where nothing America does escapes being judged on political grounds. This was a rare opportunity for the us to show that we're a true friend of the Moslem country…and we stubbed our toe badly.
Our response to the earthquake disaster could improve perceptions of America in Pakistan, a Muslim nation, where deep resentment still exists over the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war. Do you recall the warm reception we received in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, when US aid was offered?
So how much goodwill can we afford?
Don’t you hate it that it has to be put in those terms before sufficient aid can be rendered?
As of October 11, The Independant lists these aid donors:
United States: £50m plus helicopters
European Union: €3.6m plus aid workers on the ground
United Nations: $100,000
South Korea: $3m
Sri Lanka: $100,000