Is it OK to neglect disaster in Pakistan because it’s not a tourist destination? If not, see below

The latest story on the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan is about how it hasn’t been a story. Compared to the response to the Haitian earthquake, media coverage of the Pakistan floods has been paltry. While news coverage isn’t correlated with need, it does have a major effect on the amount of disaster relief aid given. An article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy yesterday reported that eleven US charities had so far raised only $5 million for Pakistan flood relief, compared to $560 million raised by 39 US groups in the two and a half weeks after the Haiti earthquake.

The difference in initial death toll reports may be one obvious explanation. The early figures for Haiti were 200,000 lives taken, compared to the 1,600 people reported to have died so far in Pakistan. But less than ten percent of the variation in amount of TV news coverage given to foreign natural disasters can be explained by severity, according to one academic study.

The same study found that one third of the variation in how much TV attention a disaster gets is explained by how popular the affected country is with US tourists. Sadly for the flood survivors, Pakistan is nowhere on the list of top destinations for US travelers in Asia and the outlook’s not great: the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan 113 out of 133 countries in its latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report.

If you think that popularity with holiday-makers is a fair way to allocate disaster relief, no problem. For the rest of you, accepting the status quo may not be so attractive. In Pakistan, estimates of people affected by the floods—who may have already lost their homes, their belongings or their livelihoods, and who now lack basic services—are at 20 million. UN officials have recently been predicting a “second wave of deaths” from water-borne diseases as the flooding continues and people remain without clean water, food and medicine. Children and the very poor are among the most vulnerable.

For individual donors wanting to help, some advice:

  1. Give to an established organization already on the ground and with experience working locally.
  2. Give cash, not goods. Pakistan is far away and shipping items there is expensive. With cash, organizations can buy what they need closer to the disaster site.
  3. Don’t earmark your donation, but give to an organization that you trust to allocate your money wisely.

Also check out this more comprehensive set of guidelines from Good Intentions Are Not Enough.

Ideas on where and how to give:

  • One reader wrote in about perceptions that there are no Pakistani NGOs participating in the relief efforts, or that all of them are inherently corrupt. She countered that organizations such as the Edhi Foundation and Islamic Relief (which is an international NGO but has worked in Pakistan for many years) have solid reputations in Pakistan and abroad and have been effective in the past in getting aid to where it is most needed.
  • Hillary Clinton announced last week that Americans can text the word "SWAT" to the number 50555 to donate $10 to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide tents, clothing, food, clean water and medicine to Pakistan.
  • The Global Giving website has a list and description of their partner organizations working on flood relief.
  • BRAC is the largest non-profit based in the developing world (it was launched in Bangladesh in 1972) and it is accepting donations through its US-based branch.
  • Tonic and Interaction both have lists of organizations accepting donations for flood relief.

Feel free to add others in the comments.