From July through September, the lives of millions in Pakistan were changed for the worse. Seasonal monsoon rains inundated nearly one-fifth of the country, causing what has been called one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. To put this devastation in perspective, the number of victims is higher than those of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. More than 20 million people with limited means have been rendered either homeless, jobless or both. That’s nearly the population of Michigan and Ohio combined displaced from their homes and livelihoods, with nothing left. For most of us, it’s difficult to grasp the extent of this devastation that has uprooted thousands of families in Pakistan and crippled the country’s already weak economy.

The greatest irony of this disaster (there are many) lies in the fact that Pakistan faced a near-drought situation earlier this year. The water in the country’s dams and reservoirs had fallen below the dead levels at the beginning of summer, which means that the water level had fallen so low that spillways no longer functioned and water could only be pumped out. Alarming photos and reports of dried-up dams and parched rivers appeared in local media outlets, which criticized the government for its apparent inaction to avert disaster. All hopes were pinned on the monsoon rains, which bring annual respite from hot dry weather to the south Asian sub-continent. The prediction of a looming disaster came true, however, in an unexpected form.

Soon after the much-anticipated monsoon rains started toward the end of July, reports of flooding in the northern areas of Pakistan marked the beginning of a calamity that would engulf much of the country in weeks to come. The rains washed away entire villages, cities and even districts across the country, making the costs of rebuilding these areas an impossible target — one much beyond the country’s limited resources.

This description of the 2010 Pakistan floods might be news (or, at best, old news) to many in this part of the world. It’s baffling how little airtime the Pakistani floods have received in world media. No benefit concerts or telethons have been held to help the people whose lives have been turned upside down. Some have considered the contrast between this disaster and the great American response to Haiti’s earthquake – 2010’s other major natural disaster. The world community has shown reluctance to help the affected people of Pakistan; the United Nation’s largest ever appeal — to raise $2 billion — has received a disappointing response.

Ironically, the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan received immense support from the local and international community alike. Billions of dollars were given in the form of aid money or support for various developmental projects. However, the same generosity is missing this time around. Why? Could this absence of world support be a case of one too many natural disasters? Is it simply a lack of publicity about the floods? Or is there some other explanation for this unresponsiveness?

These questions are difficult to answer. Speculating about the reasons behind apathy toward human suffering usually gets nowhere. It is more important to raise awareness about the crisis in Pakistan.

Getting involved in the Pakistan flood relief efforts is easy. Many local and international organizations are participating in the ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts. Here in Ann Arbor, the Pakistani Students’ Association at the University, along with its affiliate associations, have been actively involved in organizing fund raising events on campus such as bake sales, dinners, sporting events and musical shows. By donating through one of the reputable relief organizations, volunteering at PSA events or even attending them, we can decide whether or not we want to break away from an indifference towards the flood victims. Let’s help alleviate human suffering, which is irrespective of age, gender, religion, location or any other classification.

This viewpoint was written by Faiza Matasim and Fahad Muhammad Sajid on behalf of the Pakistani Students’ Association.

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