The first reaction to a report in this newspaper that roughly a quarter of the total $217m pledged by America for flood relief will be used for refuelling of helicopters is of dismay. Despite the fact that the US is the single biggest floods donor and has been actively and efficiently involved in relief efforts from the word go, it has found goodwill from Pakistanis notoriously hard to win. The report will serve to reinforce suspicions among many Pakistanis that the aid — even for flood relief and rehabilitation — comes with many strings and conditions attached. Of course, this is not to take away from the tremendous effort that the Americans seem to have put into the flood relief effort and this has, by all estimations, outdone that of Pakistan’s traditionally close friends.
The money spent in refuelling the helicopters may not be as direct a form of relief as the delivering of food packets or medical supplies. Nonetheless it is relief work that benefits Pakistan and constitutes an important, albeit rather expensive, operational cost which would have to be factored in any coherent relief plan. The US has 22 helicopters in Pakistan which have been used to rescue stranded victims and transport food, medicine and tents in areas that are no longer accessible by road. All roads and bridges in much of upper Swat have been washed away and the Karakoram Highway has been closed for six weeks because sections of it have either been swept away or blocked by landslides. This extensive damage to infrastructure means that few options are left for the transportation of relief goods. The refuelling cost of helicopters mirrors the extent of this damage and the challenge of providing aid to the millions of displaced people living in unfriendly terrain. Of course, the situation might have been different had Pakistan enough helicopters of its own (or enough were being spared) for the relief effort. Perhaps that may have been a far cheaper option.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2010.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ