By Najib Aminy
Walking through the double glass doors, a wave of fundraisers, religious awareness and club promotion crashes with each student that happens to wade through the lobby of the Student Union.
On this particular day, there are a group of students, mostly from the Muslim Student Association, that interrupt the lobby-chatter with pleas asking for donations to aid the relief effort for the victims of the flood that hit Pakistan late July.
The flood, caused by record-breaking monsoon rains, has since claimed more than 1,700 lives and has affected more than 20 million people, eclipsing the total number of people affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake combined.
But what makes this group of students soliciting aid for Pakistan unique is the lack of attention shed on the cause they are supporting. It’s this problem that Stony Brook graduate student Sumreen Dar faced while trying to gain support when advertising her comedy relief event that took place on Nov. 3 in the Wang Center.
“Most of the clubs I spoke to didn’t even know about the flood at all,” said Dar, a graduate student in liberal studies. “It was harder to get people involved,” she said.
This is largely in part, Dar said, to the amount of attention the Pakistan flood has garnered on U.S. media air- waves and in print headlines. And when you compare the flood to a more recent event like the earthquake in Haiti, where scores more were killed then in Pakistan, the difference in media coverage is stark.
In the wake of the Pakistan flood, there were 320 broadcast news stories and 730 print stories 10 days after the flooding began, according to the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think-tank that conducts research in the social sciences. The combined num-ber of stories totaled to 1,800 by day 20.
When you compare that to the coverage given to the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and Haiti, each natural disaster attracted a total of 3,000 stories both by day 10 and well over that number by day 20, according to the Institution.
“I think it’s a direct reflection of the relationship between the two countries [US and Pakistan],” said Dean Miller, the director of the Center for News Literacy, a program within Stony Brook’s School of Journalism that aims to teach students to think critically about the news they consume. “There is enmity between the two.”
Pakistan’s involvement in the nine- year Afghan War, in which the fighting has spilled into Pakistan’s border, has made it the target of US drone attacks. This is due to an increasing number of Afghan insurgency fighters who take shelter in Pakistan’s Northern region. In the most recent Gallup poll, in 2008, al- most three-quarters of the people polled viewed Pakistan as unfavorable, falling behind countries like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
This wasn’t to stop Dar. She had gotten together with a few friends and wanted to host a comedy show that would both entertain and enlighten her audience about the plight taking place in Pakistan. The comedy show, which raised more than $5,000, featured four acts from the metropolitan area that catered to what predominantly was a South Asian audience.
And while most of the jokes touched on the stereotypes of having to get married at an early age or becoming a doctor or engineer, one comic stood out for another reason, in front of a crowd that included a rabbi, a priest and a chaplain. Vidur Kapur’s act touched on social commentary that re- flected his lifestyle. He is gay, Hindu and from India, the antithesis, if you will, to what anyone expected at a ben- efit for the largely Islamic country of Pakistan.
Coming back from a five-city tour in the Middle East, Kapur calls himself living proof that the stereotypes casted over the Middle East are largely untrue. “There is this image that Pakistan or the Mideast is full of terrorists and very in- tolerant,” said Kapur, who has had his seven-year relationship with his Jewish boyfriend tested with these trips. “But the reality is that it’s not like that, not at all.”
The past five years in Pakistan’s history have continued the tradition of normalized crisis within the nation’s 70-year history after gaining independence from Britain and India, with the flood surmounting to be the most chal- lenging. Between a growing distrust of government, a poor economy and the growing Taliban regime in the North, the country has really seen better days. It’s this subject that comic Saad Haroon satirized in his song “Pakistani Blues.”
“I wanted to put humor behind the frustration that has affected Pakistan,” said Haroon, who lives in Pakistan and lives south of the flooded areas. And while Saad does believe in the idea of donor fatigue affecting the response to the flood, he says a large part of it is rooted from the media. “Information will trickle down from the first-world countries before they get to other parts of the world,” he said.
More than two weeks after the Haiti earthquake, U.S. charities raised $644 million, and three weeks follow- ing Hurricane Katrina, they raised $587 million, according to the Brookings In- stitution. Two weeks following the floods in Pakistan, U.S. charities raised only $6 million.
“It hurts seeing the response to Haiti and looking at what’s being done in Pakistan,” said Bilal Raja, a sopho- more political science major. “It kind of irritates me how the UN comes out with all these numbers and statistics, but nobody wants to help,” said Dar.
The UN has released an emergency response plan for Pakistan that would cost more than $2 billion. The UN has said it received only 40 percent of that number totaling $775 million. About a fifth of the country has been submerged underwater, affecting three of the four provinces in Pakistan. Now more than 100 days after the initial flood, there is rising concern over the spread of water- born diseases such as malaria amongst the millions displaced and a long-term concern over the nation’s economic and political stability.
And as for the coverage, the news drivers that normally increase the chances of a story being run or published, as with other natural disasters, have worked against Pakistan. With the tsunami, Katrina and Haiti, there were images, accessibility and a large audi- ence interest at home directly affected by all the events, said Miller.
For Pakistan, the strained relationship with the U.S., the lack of proximity and the absence of iconic images like a wave or a parliamentary building in shambles has hurt the relief effort.
“Pakistan is a bigger humanitarian crisis with more people displaced and affected,” said Miller. “On that measure alone this really ought to be a bigger story and it’s not.”