Disaster in Japan and Selective Humanitarianism

We’ve all seen the news. Japan’s been hit by a tsunami sent forth by a magnitude-8.8 underwater earthquake. Hundreds are feared dead…the death toll is rising and may well exceed a thousand.

All eyes are on Japan. Google has set up a link on its front page for resources related to Japanese earthquake and tsunami, while US carrier ships are already en route to Japan to help those left stranded by the disaster. The world media is on fire, and humanitarians all around the globe are already clamoring for donations.

Now, I don’t mean to be callous and divert attention away from this crisis. Any loss of life, wherever it takes place, is tragic. But one can’t help but wonder – where were these wailing donors and screaming journalists the day three-fifths of Pakistan were being swept away by flash floods?

Again, I have nothing but the deepest sympathies for the victims of this tsunami. But watching the media explode over this disaster is reflective of the western world’s selective humanitarianism.

In Pakistan’s time of need, with her people suffering from a disaster that UN described to be greater than the 2004 tsunami, the media was silent. We begged for help, but other than a few measly aid packages and an American gori, we received very little. We found ourselves being showered by pathetic excuses like “donor fatigue” (since the flood had been preceded by the Haiti earthquake), as well as reluctance of the international aid agencies to assist, due to the possibility that the aid may leak to the terrorist networks operating in the country.

Donor fatigue was the world’s way of saying that it had a limited stock of tears, which got depleted over Haiti. And the phobia of terrorists was ironic, since many of the dying Pakistani children had likely never heard of “Al-Qaeeda” in their lives.

The dead-silence of the media in the matter was shameful. I’ve seen BBC and CNN raise more of a ruckus over Ms.Spear’s hair disaster. I’m not suggesting that the media is overreacting right now with the tsunami – this disaster deserves every bit of the attention that it’s receiving. It just pains me why Pakistan was denied the same.

My viewpoints often vary markedly from the usual Pakistani weltanschauung. I don’t dislike the United States or the Western World, and I seem to have a problem with just about all and everything that is Pakistani. I have no love for this country, but I’m not apathetic about the loss of human life.

I wouldn’t like to think of it as a competition, but yes, Pakistan suffered more. The casualties faced by Japan don’t even skim the surface of those endured by Pakistan. Where were Madonna and Clooney and their fund-raising concerts when Pakistan was begging for assistance? Are we children of lesser gods, or do we not feel pain the same way our brothers and sisters in Haiti and Japan do?

(Note: This piece was published before the nuclear emergency triggered by the earthquake, when the expected death toll was in hundreds)

  1. You’re a good writer!

    • loneliberalpk
    • March 12th, 2011

    Thank you, Kashif.

    • Andaleeb
    • March 13th, 2011

    So now it is being reported that the death toll will be around 10000 whereas from Pakistani floods it was around 2000, do you now think that you wrote this article in haste without contemplating the whole scenario.

    • loneliberalpk
    • March 14th, 2011


    The point of the article still holds true because the hullabaloo had begun way back when the death toll was estimated to be no more than a thousand. It soared to ten thousand only recently when they factored in the nuclear threats and other contingencies.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not protesting all this attention that Japan’s receiving. It is, by any definition, a major disaster and the Japanese people deserve all the help they can get. I’m just pissed off why the same wasn’t done for us when our people needed help.

  2. One thing that I distinctly remember is that the country that could help the most did offer to help, but Pakistan was quick in refusing the aid… it was India.
    What is even more noteworthy is the fact that India at that time was facing floods and devastation herself, though not at as large a scale as of Pakistan… but it offered to help.

    The other thing to be noted is that the scale of calamity and its suddenness in Japan is of much larger magnitude then what happened in Pakistan floods … earthquakes come with little warning … not the same as rain induced floods. To compare the two is simply not fair.

    • gypsy king
    • October 11th, 2011

    if all pakistanis would be liberal like you and also atheist, they believe me, you would get so much help and support to rebuild pakistan 5 times. dude, what do you expect? mocking about how ignorant (most) muslims are, also you are very critic on pakistan. you promote liberalism, criticize pakistan than you wonder that no of the western liberal world help you, or cares for you. dont forget, even if you are liberal and anti-muslim, you are an ex clonized, the majority of your people are seen inferior by the west (using the same arguements against pakiland and the faith of its people, like you)

      • loneliberalpk
      • October 11th, 2011

      Are you implying that the West’s lack of exuberance towards helping Pakistan is a result of my criticism of the Pakistani government and call for social reforms on my blog? Perhaps we should let these problems go unchallenged until they overwhelm us entirely, because by highlighting them, we’re tarnishing this country’s name?

      Although it’s understandable that the Western world should favour it’s own close friends in times of need, true humanitarians cannot forsake any country simply because of the ideological differences.

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