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Ali: Denying The Deluge

08/23/10 7:55AM By Saleem Ali
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(HOST) Commentator Saleem Ali says that the floods in Pakistan are a challenge to all of us - and not just the Pakistani people.

(ALI) Natural disasters are often a cruel test of endurance for those in harm's way but they are also a test of our collective humanity.

As a Pakistani-American, I can't help but feel a sense of loss for the land of my origin, and also a biting sense of guilt for enjoying the good life in Vermont while millions of Pakistanis suffer in silence.

In a world of structural inequality, we feel an urge to donate and help those in need and no doubt such emotions have been embraced by many Americans in response to this tragedy. However, the overall response to this frightful flood has been very tepid compared to other humanitarian disasters.

When asked to donate, some people respond by saying that they are afraid to give to a country which is corrupt or riddled with militants while others contend that their priority is reducing poverty in America.  Still others say that the economy is too tough and they simply can't afford to give money to a faraway land.  All too often the response I get is that the American government is giving aid and that we are taxpayers and hence indirectly contributing.  A few people have responded by asking with sanctimonious exasperation why there are so many people in Pakistan to begin.

All these are plausible responses but leave me uneasy.

Let us not forget that regardless of where we may live in our insulated lives, in an increasingly globalized world such disasters can impact us in multiple ways.  Even with our recent recession, America is the world's most affluent country and we are also the most involved country in the geopolitics of Central and South Asia.

Also consider the level of expenditure that the United States taxpayers are willing to accept for military operations. For 2009, US military expenditures totaled around $650 billion.  In comparison, total US development assistance including the budget for the entire Department of State and the Agency for International Development was around $35 billion.

In other words, our development and foreign relations budget was 5% of our defense budget.

Now I am all for good military expenditures and I salute our armed services for protecting the homeland but let's keep track of proportions when we make statements about financial generosity for development assistance.  

As for individual philanthropy, the power of small donations can never be underestimated.  If every adult American were to donate just $50 a year for overseas philanthropy, that would amount to around a billion dollars.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American consumer spends about $2,700 per year on various forms of entertainment. If we simply partied a bit less and donated some of those savings to international humanitarian work, we could make an enormous impact.  

Human suffering at a biological level is equivalent whether in Kansas or Karachi and philanthropy must be given wherever the need may lie.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Saleem Ali at VPR-dot-net.
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