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Tuesday December 06, 2022

Focus on philanthropy?

October 05, 2022

Yesterday’s appeal from the United Nations seeking $800 million to help Pakistan tackle the catastrophe caused by devastating floods this summer falls far short of the financial gap suddenly heaped upon the country.

Pakistan’s disaster coincides tragically with a global economic downturn, pressing the once relatively generous international community to first focus on its own needs at home. In other words, the global community appears to be fatigued even before the UN and others stepped forward on Pakistan’s behalf.

Meanwhile, the global diplomatic spotlight remains primarily focused on themes far away from Pakistan such as the US-led Western confrontation with China or the crisis in the heart of Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Though floods in Pakistan have grabbed some global headlines, more tangible and timely action to help meet the needs is waiting to come. The expected cost of around $30 billion or more for Pakistan’s flood related losses is nowhere even close to being met with international support.

That raises a compelling question on Pakistan’s ability to mobilize resources domestically to overcome future risks to the country’s stability.

With millions of rural dwellers deprived of their belongings of a lifetime, there is a fast growing sense of deprivation across the flood-hit regions. That danger is set to become far more acute if the victims are left unattended and forced in large numbers to head towards urban centers in search of a living, no matter how meagre.

Caught in a race against time, Pakistan must immediately take urgent steps to mobilize its own resources combining the best abilities of the state along with the civil society and the large community of non profit organizations.

Going forward, Pakistan’s success in overcoming two inter related challenges will define the fate of its relief and rehabilitation plans.

First, Pakistan must immediately appoint a powerful focal person to coordinate the assistance already promised by donors from within and outside the country. In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed periodic criticism under successive governments over its failure during periods of calamities to improve coordination between different layers of government. Consequently, gaps have been highlighted such as cases of too much aid flowing to one geographical area while other deserving regions getting left behind.

The need to appoint a focal person is not just for meeting the immediate challenge following the devastating floods this year. This must be considered for the longer term to facilitate philanthropy without reference to a specific calamity. As one of the world’s more populous countries with a higher than desirable population growth rate, Pakistan will face recurring challenges in times to come.

Second, Pakistan needs to make its environment far more conducive to support a spirit of giving by individuals across the board. This is essential in a country with a large network of non-profit organizations already in place. However, many non-profits have been forced to operate in restricted space during the past decade, as successive governments have tightened their grip on this key sector.

The impetus for tighter control over non-profits was initially driven in response to allegations against foreign governments for arming non-profits in Pakistan with generous handouts in return for carrying out a range of assignments across the country. But time has shown that tighter controls have also undermined the work of non-profit organizations, whose conduct has remained above board throughout their tenure.

The recent destruction caused by floods has badly exposed the many gaps surrounding controls over philanthropic outfits in Pakistan. Ironically, however, data collected time and again has also shown the extent to which Pakistanis remain one of the most generous people in contributing to help others.

It is clear that this is a pressing moment in Pakistan’s history. As graphic details of the destruction caused by the floods pour in on a daily basis, it is clear that the country needs to find ways to protect Pakistan’s mainstream population.

The need for appointing a dedicated leader of Pakistan’s philanthropic sector has become all the more pressing as the country deals with a continuing political divide, led by members of the ruling structure versus former prime minister Imran Khan.

For the moment, there appears to be virtually no room for reconciliation between Pakistan’s political rivals despite the massive scale of the disaster that continues to unfold. Faced with this unprecedented adversity, it is vital for the present and future of Pakistan to assemble stakeholders with a commitment to philanthropy on a common platform under the leadership of a well-respected focal person.

As for the future, the success of this initiative must eventually translate to a fundamental change – that stakeholders tied to Pakistan’s ruling structure eventually feel compelled to become committed to the promotion of philanthropy as a central plank for their policies, both in words and deeds.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at: farhanbokhari@gmail.com

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