stemming the flood of apathy

A couple of weekends ago I went to New York City for BlogHer, a big conference for bloggers.

That same weekend, in Pakistan, the disastrous flooding that had started a week before was getting steadily worse.

I’m embarrassed to say that over that weekend when I was in New York, the flooding in Pakistan was not even on my radar. While I can’t say for certain that it wasn’t mentioned, I just don’t remember anyone talking about it. Even at the very activism-oriented sessions that I attended. It could be that I was caught up in other things, or it could be that everyone else was, too.

During the 2 days that I was staying in comfortable hotels, and feasting on the elaborate buffets courtesy of corporate sponsors, hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan were already left homeless, and millions more were affected. Over a thousand had already died.

In the following week, I know that I had seen an email come in from UNICEF about the floods, but I didn’t spend much time looking at it. I confess that it wasn’t until I was glancing at a newspaper left on a table at my in-laws’ house last weekend and read an article about US aid to Pakistan that I really became conscious of the magnitude of the flooding, and reflected on how little I had heard about it. I know that some of this is because I was travelling, and preoccupied with personal business. I was too busy with kids and family to spend more than a few minutes a day online, and I don’t generally watch TV. But somehow in those few minutes a day online I read about other things. I read far more, for example, about the controversy about the proposed Islamic community center in New York City. (You know, the one that’s not actually a mosque, nor actually at Ground Zero.) And I can’t help but feel that the lack of widespread concern over the one story and the furor over the other are related.

Now, more than two weeks after the flooding began, the crisis in Pakistan is still growing, with 8 million people urgently needing humanitarian aid.

I know that I am not alone in my concern, nor am I alone in being disturbed by the unimpressive trickle of response to these catastrophic floods. I think it’s important for those of us who do care to do what we can to express our concern, and show the people of Pakistan, and the world at large, than many of us care at least as much about the survival of their children as the fate of a building that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory.

So, you may be wondering why I’m bringing up a conference I attended. Well, for one thing, things that happened there have been on my mind a disproportionate amount of time compared to world events, and that does not make me proud of myself. For another thing, thanks to the kindness of a couple of generous friends, I didn’t need to get a hotel room of my own for the two nights I was in the city, as they let me use the extra beds in their rooms. Both turned down my offers of contributing to the hotel bills. So, I feel like I had a bit of a windfall. And I have decided to donate the equivalent of what I might have paid for 2 nights of hotel in New York City to organizations who are actively providing humanitarian aid to the survivors of the floods in Pakistan.

I donated to IRC and UNICEF, two organizations I have previously supported, and who are already on the ground in Pakistan. I know that there are other worthy organzations at work in Pakistan, such as Doctors Without Borders. If you would like to recommend any others, or any other ways of either helping the situation in Pakistan or voicing your concern, please share them in the comments.