(CNSNews.com) – Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), just home from a trip to flooded Pakistan, says the world “isn't keeping up with the size of the challenge” in that country – and he is urging the hard-pressed American people to help out.
“This is a hard time to ask Americans to give money -- yes these are tough economic times for so many here at home -- but what I saw in Pakistan calls out for the very best that we are as Americans, that we dig down and pitch in because if we don't, people will die,” Kerry said in a message on his Web site.
Kerry says more than 20 million people in one-fifth of Pakistan are affected by the flooding -- more than the number of people affected by the Pacific Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined.
“Even as I sit here I'm shaken by the fact that this is Pakistan's Katrina,” Kerry said.
Hurricane Katrina, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, is blamed for more than 1,800 deaths. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 1.5 million people were directly affected by the hurricane, which burst levees protecting New Orleans. More than 800,000 people were forced out of their homes.
As part of a helicopter tour over the Punjab plains, Kerry said he spoke to people, heard stories of their desperation for food and water. “They talked of the joy when they saw American Chinook helicopters -- distinctive for their two big rotors -- because they knew help was arriving.”
Kerry mentioned that the U.S. government is leading the international aid effort and has contributed $150 million so far – including funds from the “Kerry-Lugar-Berman” aid package, which Congress passed last year.
“But today, we need your help to do more,” the senator said. He warned that “the political and economic consequences for Pakistan -- a nuclear-armed country in a volatile region -- will be catastrophic if we don't act.”
Kerry is directing Americans to the Pakistan Relief Fund, where “your donations will go directly to help the people of Pakistan. With a donation of $5, you can buy 50 high energy bars providing much needed nutrition; $10 can provide a child or mother with a blanket; and about $40 can buy material to shelter a family of four,” he said.
According to an Associated Press report on Wednesday, U.S. efforts to help Pakistani flood victims won’t do much to boost America’s image in the region.
The U.S. reputation is tarnished in Pakistan, the report says, despite the billions of American dollars funneled to that country since the 9-11 attacks on the U.S.
In fact, a recent Pew Foundation poll found that nearly six in 10 Pakistanis viewed the United States as an enemy, and only one in 10 called it a partner.
According to the AP, “Many in Pakistan see the United States as interested more in killing insurgents than in helping the country's poor. Past U.S. support for former Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other military rulers has fueled a perception that Washington cares little about Pakistan's democracy. Then there is the idea in Pakistan that the United States is anti-Muslim, a view that could be strengthened by opposition to a mosque planned near the World Trade Center site that Islamic extremists destroyed in 2001.”
The U.S. government has some major concerns about Pakistan as well, including corruption and inefficiency on the part of the government there.
Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said during a visit to Pakistan on Tuesday that the country will have to demonstrate it can spend relief funds transparently and well if it wants more help in rebuilding, The Associated Press reported.
Shah told the AP the U.S. would continue urging nations to donate: "We are going to work at it, but these are tough economic times around the world and it will require a demonstration of real transparency and accountability and that resources spent in Pakistan get results."