August 15, 2011

This Weekend’s News: In Pakistan, a Notable Reminder

Yesterday, Ajay Chhibber, assistant secretary general of the
United Nations, assistant administrator of the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) and UNDP regional director for Asia and the Pacific, penned an
op-ed for The Washington Post
reminding the world that Pakistan – a country no less important to long-term
U.S. national security than Afghanistan – is still reeling from the devastating
floods that struck the country last summer.

Pakistan’s flooding, the response to the United Nations’ appeal for close to $2 billion in
relief and early recovery funds was strong
,” Chhibber
wrote. Since last summer, national and international relief agencies have
made significant strides to halt the flood-induced humanitarian crisis: “National
and international agencies across the flood zone have restored water and
sanitation services to 1.6 million households, provided 64,000 shelters, helped more than
15,000 people reclaim lost identity documentation and restored more than 3,600
pieces of community infrastructure, including buildings, bridges and roads
Chhibber noted. But both the flood waters and international relief have receded
at a time when many are still struggling to get back on their feet. “$413 million is
still needed for urgent efforts to rebuild agriculture and food
security, health and nutrition, housing, and public services such as roads,
waterways and sewage systems,
” according to Chhibber. “In
a country where farming provides the basic livelihood for 80 percent of the
country’s 187 million people, 430,000 farming households in 14 severely
flood-affected districts will need agricultural support over the next two
years. Tens of thousands still need regular food supplies and housing
.” And
as Christine said last year on NPR, the United States has clear security
interests in a stable Pakistan: “Just based
on our troops in the region, our goals in the region, our work with allies like
India in the region — anything that destabilizes Pakistan or affects its
government's ability to keep control of the country has enormous stakes for the
United States on the security side

Perhaps what is most notable about Chhibber’s piece is the
emphasis on disaster preparation and resilience to minimize the severity that
natural disasters may have on Pakistan’s near- and long-term stability. “Building
Pakistan’s resilience will require urgent and ongoing support and commitment
from the international community
,” Chhibber wrote. “When
communities are prepared, they’ve been able to rise up after a disaster.
” And
it’s this message about building resilience that should strike a chord with U.S.

Helping our international partners build resilience to
natural disasters – including efforts around climate adaptation – is likely to
be a more palatable model for foreign assistance as the United States continues
to navigate a constrained fiscal environment. The U.S. Agency for International
Development, the State Department and even the U.S. military already work with
their counterparts in countries around the world to help them build capacity to
respond to these types of events in order to hedge against natural disasters
that may require a greater, more sustained (and more expensive) U.S. response.  Without question, though, more can be done to
help nations like Pakistan prepare for these catastrophic events. “Wise
investments in early-warning systems can help vulnerable communities by
offering precious time to get out of harm’s way
,” Chhibber wrote. “Simple
technologies such as arched foundations, pyramid-shaped roofing and
wire-reinforced cement can make houses disaster-proof and reinforce public
buildings against floods or earthquakes

International cooperation around natural disaster
preparedness should be a foreign policy priority embraced by fiscally-conscious
policymakers. Indeed, given the near- and long-term trajectory of environmental
and climate change trends, the United States should prepare for a future where
natural disasters are more frequent and more severe. And the United States will
need to make hard choices about where to respond when disasters strike in the
world, as we may not be able to respond everywhere at all times. But our
choices about where to respond become easier if we have done a better job
preparing our partners to respond to these disasters themselves, and building
their resilience to natural disasters to minimize the impact those disasters might
have on state stability. And in countries where our long-term national security
interests are inextricably linked to state stability, natural disaster
preparedness makes sense.  

This Week's Events

At 6:30 PM today, the Goethe-Institute will be showing the
film "Climate. Culture. Change." 

On Thursday at 6:00 PM, the Center for Global Development
will show the movie "There Once Was An Island: Te Henua e Nnoho."