Covering Pakistan’s Floods

This comparison between money raised for Pakistan and Haiti’s natural disasters this year is pretty stark. As the graphic above shows, the response to Pakistan’s floods was muted compared with the response to Haiti’s earthquake.

The analysis of why this might be has been kicking around for a while, and finds a fresh incarnation today, with Patrick Rooney, of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, pointing out…

Americans are concerned about terrorism and “negative images of Pakistan as an incubator, or a place that has tolerated the Taliban and other terrorists,” he says.

His figures show that American groups raised almost $50m for Pakistan, compared with Hurricane Katrina ($1.9 billion), 9/11 ($1.1 billion), the tsunami ($900 million) and the Haiti earthquake ($900 million).

Has anyone done any comparisons with floods in Kenya, conflict in Northern Uganda or hunger in Ethiopia? About 1700 people died in Pakistan’s floods, far fewer than Haiti or the Tsunami. And they died in a far-off unfamiliar place, unlike Katrina or 9/11.

In fact, having covered emergencies in Africa for five years, I’m starting to think the question is not why Pakistan’s floods generated so little media coverage or cash, but how it generated so much?

And I think that were it not for the country’s reputation for harbouring Islamist groups, its awkward role as a US ally in the war on terror and its nuclear arsenal, then Pakistan’s floods would have merited a couple of days attention before the world moved on.

So rather than criticising journalists for looking at the part played by Islamist charities or asking questions about Pakistan’s stability, it is worth wondering what would have happened if coverage had focused purely on the humanitarian story… it would have dropped off the news agenda much faster, and far less cash would have been raised from donors.

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