Pakistan? Send It To My Voicemail

Global Philanthropy
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

$25 million.  That’s how much private donors, foundations and companies have pledged since the floods in Pakistan began six weeks ago. According to the Center on Philanthropy, in the same amount of time after the Haiti earthquake in January an estimated $900 million was committed.  It’s been nearly two months since torrential monsoon rains gave way to devastating floods throughout the region and yet little aid has managed to reach the 20 million people - more than the combined total affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake - affected by the disaster.  Pakistan is calling but we’re not picking up the phone. The question is, why and where should donors go to help?

There are mixed opinions as to why Americans have been slow to respond to the crisis in Pakistan.  Several American nonprofit and aid organizations explain that they lack agencies and personnel in the area to respond. Those who are on the ground lack sophisticated media relations and fund raising capabilities. A recent report from NPR also suggests donor fatigue may be at fault.  Over 40% of Americans donated to Haiti and, with the economy still struggling and unemployment remaining high, many may have lost their giving spirit. 

There are also many who claim media coverage has been lacking or has downplayed the extent of the problem.  This may be due, in part, to the relatively low number of reported deaths thus far – just over 1,500 – which many take as a sign that the floods are not as devastating as previous natural disasters. And it’s true; floods are not as swift and generally not as destructive as earthquakes or tornadoes, but what they lack in speed they gain in longer term devastation. 

Monsoon season is expected to continue until early October, which means at least another month until the lands begin to dry, damages can be fully assessed and infrastructure can start to be rebuilt.  One of the biggest risks between now and then is stagnant water, a breeding ground for diseases and water-borne illnesses, including cholera, of which several cases have already been reported.  Charities and aid organizations are also nervous that, although donations are trickling in, the money will stop when the news coverage does and when funds for the recovery effort will be desperately needed. So, what might donors do to help?

In terms of disaster relief and philanthropy there is, unfortunately, a big knowledge gap.  Donors typically don’t know where to turn – where their money is needed most and where it should go in order to be used in the most efficient and effective manner.  There are several organizations that have compiled disaster relief resources specific to the Pakistan floods, including: Chronicle of Philanthropy, Council on Foundations, Associated Grant Makers and our friend Karen Ansara of the Ansara Family Fund and New England International Donors who lead the charge to establish The Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Fund at The Boston Foundation immediately after the earthquake.  And for those grappling with what disaster relief agencies and rebuilding efforts to support, TPI offers a brief set of criteria and questions that donors may want to consider: 

On the ground presence and reach:

  • Has the organization had an ongoing presence, prior to July 2010, in most or all of Pakistan?
  • Does the organization have solid relationships and partnerships enabling it to be effective and efficient in addressing critical needs in the affected areas?
  • Is the organization well-positioned to work within the existing infrastructure to get resources to where they are most needed?


  • Does the organization operate in a way that is cost-effective, not overly bureaucratic, and results-oriented?  (One potential indicator is how the agency is rated by charity rating groups like Charity Navigator, indicating that the organization operates in a cost-effective and fiscally responsible fashion.)
  • Does the organization have a solid track record of success and expertise in addressing important needs in the affected areas and/or elsewhere?

Collaboration and cultural sensitivity:

  • Does the organization support community-based approaches, work with local organizations and volunteers, and approach its work in ways that empower people in need and organizations who operate on the ground?

Sustainability and potential for long-term impact:

  • Does the organization support sustainable approaches beyond just disaster relief that could have a long-term impact on people’s lives?
  • Once the immediate crisis has been addressed, what kind of staying power will the organization have to help with the long-term rebuilding that will be needed in Pakistan?