How do you measure misery? It’s a question that makes me uncomfortable although the fact is my job involves portraying the suffering of survivors of disasters. The more successful I am at this the more I help raise money to alleviate some of their pain. But with Pakistan I feel I have failed.
Last month, I got a chance to ditch my day job as a writer and actually go to Pakistan to help with the distribution of food and other relief goods. I also managed to post a few blogs and photos while I was out there. But since I got back I’ve been slightly dismayed by the general perception of the situation, as time and again people have said to me: ‘How was Pakistan? It doesn’t seem as bad as Haiti.’
Don’t get me wrong, I know the people in Haiti are suffering, especially with this latest cholera outbreak. Earlier this year I met many survivors, including 19-year-old Ambroise whose mother died in the earthquake. He now lives alone in a house made of scraps of wood and metal. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would cope if I were in his situation.
Through our Haiti Earthquake Appeal we raised more than £10 million, money which is much needed and will help with the overwhelming recovery and reconstruction process which will take years.
But with Pakistan we have only raised around £4 million. Now that’s not an amount to be sniffed at and of course we are so grateful to everyone who has donated, but the problem is, it’s not enough. The needs are huge. To put it in perspective the number of people displaced by Haiti’s quake was around 1.3 million, whereas the number of people affected by the Pakistan floods is more than 20 million.
Of course a shocking number of people died in Haiti (200,000) and the images of the capital city reduced to rubble made it easy for us to comprehend the utter devastation and desperate needs of survivors. But in Pakistan, the floods which killed around 2,000 people, are so vast and spread across the country it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the true extent of the disaster.
As winter approaches, the emergency in Pakistan is far from over. Malnutrition rates have risen to 14 per cent and an estimated 30-50 per cent of children arriving at health facilities have shown symptoms of acute malnutrition.
Because of the destruction, people simply have no way to feed themselves – it will be almost a year before many farmers can bring in another harvest. That means people are going to go hungry unless we continue to help them.
Photo © Sarah Oughton/BRC