I called Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak), about the devastating floods in Pakistan and what it means for the people there and also for US strategic concerns in the region. Great parts of the country that the Pakistan Army had retaken from the Taliban are now devastated.
Mr. Holbrooke emailed me this response:
"Floods in Asia" is such a recurrent headline that many people outside Pakistan still do not realize that this is an epic event--the worst monsoon floods in the history of the 63-year old nation, in fact the worst floods in the area since 1926.
The statistics are overwhelming. At least 14 million people have been affected--more than Haiti and the tsunami combined (although deaths are, mercifully, fewer in numbers, so far). Hundreds of bridges, an unknown amount of roads, homes, schools and health clinics, have been destroyed. In one area, over 700,000 people have been evacuated. A major dam in a densely populated area is in a precarious state, and millions lie in its path. The already-over-burdened electrical grid is in danger of further weakening. The relief and reconstruction costs will be enormous.
The region affected by this catastrophe includes the tribal areas where Taliban and Al Qaeda have been operating; some reports suggest that they are trying to exploit the tragedy for their own purposes. We must not allow this to happen, as it would add to the dangers facing our troops in Afghanistan.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the entire administration recognized the emergency immediately, and acted quickly, as our nation always does in the face of great humanitarian disasters like the Haiti earthquake and the tsunami. We immediately sent what was needed most urgently--helicopters--from Afghanistan, followed by a much larger helicopter contingent fron the USS Peleliu. This was followed by a quick injection of aid, now already approaching close to $100 million. We have pressed other nations to join us, and they are. The UN will hold a Special Session next week to address what can be done.
The American public response was initially slower than, say, for Haiti or the tsunami. But as people have begun to realize the dimensions of the crisis, they have begun to respond.
One way that an individual can make a tangible statement is to text $10 to the UN High Commission on Refugees, on your cellphone. It's really easy: text "SWAT" to 50555, and you will be sending $10 to the homeless in Pakistan through the UN! Hillary Clinton launched this campaign (from her personal cellphone, of course). Join us in helping the people of Pakistan! Text SWAT to 50555.