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The duty to care

Canada
The Ottawa Citizen
17/08/2010

The news out of Pakistan is heartbreaking. Uncounted numbers who have clambered or walked to safety, awaiting rescue, are now dying slowly of starvation, dehydration and waterborne disease.

The scale of the disaster was not, at first, apparent to the outside world. Floods are a little slower to do their evil than earthquakes and tsunamis. But it's now clear that this situation in Pakistan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters the world has seen in recent years, and it is getting worse, not better.

The response effort has been hampered by bad weather and lack of infrastructure. Nobody even knows exactly how much land is under water, and exactly how many people need help. Estimates of the numbers of dead are so conservative as to be worthless. The need for clean water, food and medicine is immense, but when whole villages are under water, the challenge is logistical as well as financial.

That's not to suggest money isn't needed. It is, and despite the undeniable corruption and incompetence of Pakistan's government, Canadians can have confidence in organizations such as -- to name only two of many -- the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Donor fatigue is a luxury the human race simply can't afford. The recent moderate earthquake in Ottawa, although it was mercifully inconsequential, was a reminder that no place on Earth is free from the caprices of nature. There but for the grace of God go we. And climate change means that disasters will be ever more common; once-in-a-century floods will happen much more often than once in a century.

It makes sense, therefore, for donor countries to learn to be as efficient as possible, to offer the best possible help as soon as disaster strikes. Time is of the essence in humanitarian disasters, especially in underdeveloped regions with governments that are either incompetent or -- as in Burma, for example -- frankly hostile toward elements of their own populations.

Canada's response to the floods in Pakistan was cautious, with an initial announcement of $2 million that was only bumped up to $33 million on Aug. 14, two weeks after the UN described the floods as the worst in living memory. A measured response makes sense in the early days of a disaster, because there's no point in clogging airport runways with aid that can't be used. Canada's government must assess the situation. But it must make that assessment as quickly as possible and keep ramping up aid as needed. Every day that passes in Pakistan means more people will contract malaria or cholera or dysentery.

Canada's humanitarian responsibility does not begin when an earthquake or flood hits the headlines, and it does not end when those headlines disappear. Long-term projects to fight corruption and strengthen the administrative capacity of government and civil society in places such as Pakistan and Haiti pay off in better disaster response, and better recovery from disasters -- which in turn means Canada's government has to send less emergency aid.

Individually, every Canadian has a duty: to give, to care, and not to turn away from the images of parents struggling to pull their children through high, dirty water, or of the old and infirm struggling to get scarce relief packages.

 

The news content in this section is responsibility of the information agencies and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Government of Mexico on this or other related topics.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.

    

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