Flood Relief Bidding War in Pakistan

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The two biggest climate catastrophes going on now – namely the floods in NW Pakistan and the drought/forest fires throughout Russia – both threaten to have serious follow-on political consequences from the perceived incompetence on the part of the governments involved when it comes to reacting to these disasters in time and with sufficient effort and resources. The main difference between them – other than their finding themselves at opposite extremes of the wet/dry spectrum – is that in Russia there is no organized opposition present to take advantage of the situation politically.

In Pakistan on the other hand, and particularly in that part of Pakistan affected by the floods which happens to border Afghanistan, you have the set of varying Muslim extremist elements loosely characterized by the label “Taliban” (and in some cases even “Al-Qaeda”). As an article in the German commentary newspaper Die Zeit now reveals, those Taliban are indeed moving to profit from the situation, offering $20 million worth of flood-relief assistance on the condition that the Pakistani government refuse all other aid coming from foreign countries, particularly America.

According to the article, US aid on offer already totals $35 million and that has also now been raised by another $20 million, with the prospect held out for even more if necessary. (And it will no doubt be necessary: Oxfam has termed these heavy floods a “mega-catastrophe,” while a UN spokesman called their collective impact worse even than the Asian tsunami of 2005 or this year’s Haiti earthquake.) Then again, there are good reasons for any impartial observer to favor the Taliban’s offer nonetheless: as the Zeit article details, the inundations make sheer access to the area very difficult, while many of the helicopters that are supposed to be available don’t work anyway. (The article does not explain why.)

For now, it’s a “donkey or on foot” situation for getting help to where it’s needed, and of course the Taliban are already there in the area and offering to assist with distribution as well – provided that authorities promise not to arrest their personnel! And then this other article on the subject from the Danish daily Politiken gives another good reason: you can be sure that much of any outside aid will ultimately go to the bank accounts of corrupt local officials rather than to the victims for whom it was intended, while that is less likely to be the case with the local Taliban.

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