On Saturday, Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, is convening a donor conference in Islamabad to forcefully and transparently present his case to the world for the type of assistance his country will need to rebuild Kashmir and other northern areas of Pakistan ravaged by a magnitude 8.7 Earthquake on October 8th.
Reconciled estimates compiled by Pakistani government agencies, and endorsed by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other supranational lending organizations, show that $5.2 billion is needed, of which $3.7 billion will go into long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts and $1.5 billion will be needed in the near term to keep Kashmiris and Pakistanis alive through the long Himalayan winter.
The international community’s response this weekend will define how a world awash in liquidity and increasingly bankrupt in morality manages humanitarian crises in the years to come. The inadequate response thus far is as alarming as it is unacceptable. Barely ten percent of what is needed has been committed, including by oil wealthy Arab nations whose ruling elite routinely enjoy Pakistan’s rich culture and environs.
The United States, criticized near and far for always doing less than it could, has almost unilaterally carried the heavy lift burden of getting aid to the needy with its fleet of Chinook-class helicopters. State Department records show over 1,200 American personnel are in Pakistan to assist with relief efforts. One-hundred fifty eight U.S. military and civilian cargo airlift flights have delivered about 1,900 tons of medical supplies, food, shelter material, blankets, and rescue equipment to Pakistan.
Chinooks and other U.S. helicopters have flown 2,400 sorties delivering over 4,000 tons of relief supplies to the disaster area and transporting over 16,000 people needing medical attention. A U.S. Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) is operating in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, providing urgent medical care to more than 2,000 injured people. Nine U.S. military ships have delivered over 100 pieces of heavy equipment, 34 containers of supplies and 176 tons of humanitarian assistance through the port of Karachi.
America certainly cares. But we could, and should, do a lot more.
A tour of Kashmir’s earthquake-stricken areas leaves one speechless–roads blocked by boulders the size of houses, mountains whose sheered faces buried the villages below them, rivers diverted by rockslides and entire villages flattened like pancakes. Amid the ruin, hope remains alive–Kashmiris walk with purpose throughout what is left of their villages and temporary tent cities, busily preparing to rebuild their lives. Their resiliency is the sole reason the world should act generously to help them help themselves.
Here are the most important ways in which that can happen:
The immediate needs of the affected areas are for 3,000,000 blankets and 250,000 temporary tent shelters to help residents get through the harsh Himalayan winter. In order to both speed the process by which the supplies get to Kashmir and distribute the burden for doing so, President Musharraf should call on the leaders of major cities in the United States and other wealthy countries to sponsor a village by collecting blankets and tents and transporting them to a gateway city, like New York or London, from where United Parcel Service, whose former chairman visited the earthquake-stricken areas this week as part of a U.S. presidential delegation, could offer to transport them to Chaklala Air Force Base in Islamabad. Three hundred cities collecting 10,000 blankets each does not seem an unreasonable task if there is an organizing force and willing spirit behind the effort. Hotels and large department stores could make a big initial contribution to such an effort.
The biggest intermediate term problem is rebuilding road infrastructure in the region so that aid and reconstruction materials can be transported by road rather than airlifted at much greater cost. Focus needs to be trained on making tangible requests of Caterpillar, John Deere, and other heavy equipment manufacturers to contribute on loan the needed machinery to rebuild Kashmir’s road infrastructure.
Innovative solutions exist for creating earthquake proof housing units in Kashmir (Out of Disaster, Innovation). The Pakistan army has already approved and is beginning to permit construction of Eco-Domes by Cal Earth Pakistan, a joint venture between California-based Cal Earth and Pakistani American entrepreneurs. USAID, the U.S. government’s partner in disaster relief, has committed to provide funds for low-cost housing solutions. Rather than buying more tents than can be deployed or are needed, USAID’s able management team, which will be in Islamabad for the conference, should look seriously at investing its resources in these earthen super-adobe style homes, many of which saved the people of Bam, Iran (where the last big earthquake struck in the region) from a lifetime of living in tent cities. Rebuilding Kashmiri lives with dignity is crucial to this effort.
Finally, for the long-term, the world needs to look at Pakistan as a more-equal trading partner. Years of various types of trade sanctions and other punitive measures have left the economy reeling. An example of how the international community could take a politically bold decision that helps Pakistan to help itself is reversing the European Union’s March 2004 decision to reintroduce punitive tariffs against Pakistani bed linens. Cotton and cotton-based products are Pakistan’s largest export component in its vital textile industry, generating over $400 million alone in trade profits with Europe. That’s a lot of funding to help build homes, hospitals, food warehouses, power-generation facilities, and water-distribution plants.
The concept of “donor fatigue” has become a fashion statement for inaction during a humanitarian crisis. The world has a historic chance to put forth a comprehensive plan for rebuilding distressed lives. South Asia’s earthquake should become a contest of generosity.
Give, world. Just give.
–Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York, just returned from the earthquake-stricken areas of northern Pakistan and Kashmir.