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Measure of a disaster is more than death toll: it's also the toll on survivors

The disaster in Pakistan sneaked up on this part of the world.

 Floods are not unusual during monsoon season, so not much attention was paid until the statistics became alarming.  Even then, the initial coverage seemed low key.  There were no 800 numbers being displayed on the screen, telling us where we could call to offer our contributions.

We are accustomed to having our television news lavishly illustrated, and that didn’t happen in this case.  Instead we saw repeatedly the same people laboriously crossing the same flooded stream, the same group of people standing in muddy water and waving desperately to an overhead helicopter, and the same plastic bags of food being dropped from a helicopter.

Then came the Duh moment.

The situation must be far worse than anything being shown if news organizations are unable to travel in to take new pictures every hour.  

It became necessary to listen more carefully.

Ignorance can dull compassion.

As a country, we don’t know much about Pakistan, except that it is next to Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden may be hiding there. 

It isn’t a tourist destination, and those of us who don’t have relatives there tend not to have much contact with the Pakistani community in this country.

Because Pakistan is an Islamic state, Christian organizations don’t have a large presence there.  The representatives of organizations we often hear from when a disaster is being coped with are not being heard in this situation.

No country can operate with a quarter of its surface flooded.  Imagine if in this country the Mississippi River and its major tributaries all flooded at the same time.

Delivery of relief goods is complicated by rugged terrain and territorial disputes, which also complicate coverage of the story and our ability to understand it.

In mid-August, Church World Service officials expressed concern about whether pledges from the international community were coming fast enough and would be fulfilled.  CWS’s director of humanitarian assistance also wonders if the low death toll became a measure for the severity of the disaster, overlooking the dynamics of the multi-millions of people left homeless, fighting cholera and seeking the basic necessities to survive.

At this point, relief is depending heavily on the military.  Countries sending relief supplies are also sending the means to deliver them. A group of U.S. Army helicopters and their crews has been reassigned to help.

This may become the pattern increasingly as global warming sends more harsh and unstable weather conditions our way.

Repeatedly, what we are seeing in situations such as this are the destruction of community, the realities of poverty and unequal economic opportunities.

More details about relief efforts in Pakistan are on page 2 in the Around the World section, along with a reference to the ACT Alliance.  Each denomination’s web site will also give information about where to send contributions.

We cannot allow either ignorance or the harshness of the situations to dull our sense of compassion and our determination to make a difference.

Nancy Minard - Editorial Team