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21 Sep, 2010 21:33

Media abandons Pakistan as country drowns

The UN has said that the disaster is worse than the 2004 South Asian tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. So, why isn't the US media covering it?

On July 31, 2010 the typical monsoon rains in Pakistan began to turn into something far worse – the biggest flooding the region has seen in a long time. 20 percent of the country is under water, 20 million people have been displaced or stranded and approximately 1600 have died.

"The scale and magnitude is difficult to comprehend, it's beyond imagination," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

If the devastation was that extreme, why has the media barely talked about it? Most Americans say the flooding in Pakistan didn't receive anywhere near the amount of coverage as the other major natural disaster of 2010, the earthquake in Haiti.

While officially the United States pledged $200 million in aid to Pakistan and sent military helicopters to deliver aid and supplies to the stranded, the American public did not donate nearly as much as they did to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Earlier this year CNN hosted a celebrity telethon for the Haitian victims that ended up raking in nearly $58 million.

Why was there disconnect between the official American response to Pakistan's floods and the average American's perception of the country? Many Americans point to a growing culture of Islamophobia, Pakistan's geographic distance from the United States and the negative coverage of the country in the American media.

Many say the nuclear armed country of 175 million may be a safe haven for Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is also an important ally of the US in the war on terror and hosts multiple supply lines that move goods to American and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Now that one fifth of the country is under water, experts and analysts say those lines have been damaged and could significantly increase the cost of the war.

RT contributor Danny Schechter said the floods have been overlooked by the US media because the region is a war region as far as media is concerned. He explained that they are not set up to cover humanitarian crises, just conflict.

There has been a media failure here, but it’s also part of the failure of our whole foreign policy that has focused more on war and conflict than on human needs,” said Schechter.

He explained that the lack of media coverage has led to the lack of concern among Americans. Americans are not seeing or hearing about the floods and are offered no perspective on the crisis. There has also been an ongoing hostility towards Islam and Islamic people that has contributed to the attitude of Americans towards the crisis. Additionally, Americans are not globally minded.

Americans don’t know much about the world. Only 20 million Americans have passports I believe, or 20% have passports – we don’t travel. Our media does not cover the world very fully except in terms of war and conflict. And even when they cover wars they’re really covering us. It’s all about, it’s about American soldiers, American assistance, our good intentions around the world and the problems people have and the concerns that they have are not being heard,” said Schechter.

He argued that the world is simply not set up to respond to crises very well and the community does not learn from past mistakes.

Rabia Chowdhry, a research associate with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, said that the UN has called this the worst disaster in recent history, greater than the Haiti earthquake, Kashmir earthquake and Asian tsunami combined.

The number of people who are affected by this is the total number of people living in the entire country of the Netherlands,” said Chowdhry.

During the Haitian earthquake there was a massive CNN fundraising telethon, yet nothing of that nature has taken place for Pakistan, since much fear their money may end up in Taliban or other hands.

This worry is valid to some extent,” said Chowdhry.

She explained that it may not simply a worry that money falls to the Taliban, but many question the credibility of the Pakistani government.

Chowdhry also argued that the distance and security situation in Pakistan has complicated US media coverage. There are few big-name media reporters in the region because of logistical reasons.

However, the extensive amount of aid coming into Pakistan from the US government has improved the image of America amongst the people, said Chowdhry.