Since the end of July, floods caused by an unusually heavy monsoon have devastated Pakistan. Under relentless rain, the Indus breached its banks almost along its entire route within the country — washing away people, their homes and animals right from Khyber Pakhtunwa province and southern Punjab, down to Sindh and Balochistan. The disaster is of a magnitude unparalleled in Pakistan's history, even bigger than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake in terms of the sheer number of people affected by it. That number could be as high as 20 million across 74 districts. More than 1,500 people are dead and if water-borne diseases take hold, the toll could rise. Five hundred thousand people are homeless, and 700,000 hectares of cultivable land are inundated. Pakistan simply does not have the capacity to cope with a tragedy of this enormity and geographical spread. The resources-strapped government has been unable to mount rescue or relief services in many affected areas and people have been left to deal with the situation in whatever ways they can. Militant groups such as the Jamat-ud-dawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba have stepped in to fill the vacuum in some places, further undermining the fragile democratic government. The fury of the floods having subsided, Pakistan still needs help to deal with the aftermath. A U.N. appeal for $459 million has evoked a disappointing response from the international community. The pledges made so far total only 47 per cent of the target, with the United States and United Kingdom making the most substantial commitments.
As the region's biggest economy, India should have been first off the blocks in offering help to its beleaguered neighbour. Its belated offer of $5 million in relief assistance is measly compared to what it has done for other neighbours. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, India did well to give Sri Lanka an assistance package of nearly $200 million. Prime Minister Mamohan Singh took the right step by calling his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express India's readiness to do more for the relief effort. This rectifies New Delhi's earlier position that it would give more only if Pakistan responded positively to the “initial offer,” which was as small-minded as Islamabad's response that it was yet to decide whether or not to accept Indian assistance. Despite difficult bilateral relations, there have been instances in the past of spontaneous solidarity. Pakistan sent relief materials after the Gujarat earthquake; India did the same after the Kashmir earthquake. It is unfortunate that the two countries are letting present animosities come in the way of addressing a humanitarian situation. If Pakistan can accept assistance from other countries, there should be no problem taking it from India. For its part, New Delhi must unreservedly raise the assistance amount, and give it to Pakistan, if required, as part of the United Nations fund.