The disaster is staggering: One-fifth of Pakistan is under water. More than 1,600 are dead. A half-million people are without shelter. Weeks of heavy rain has inundated the country, and the monsoon season is far from over. Tents, clean water, food and medicine — Pakistan needs it all now before a humanitarian crisis grows into a bigger political one.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon flew over Pakistan on Sunday and declared that other disasters he had seen were "nothing like this." Families are fleeing entire villages. Children are wading through shoulder-deep muddy water trying to find high ground. Some 900,000 homes have been damaged. Six million people need immediate assistance. Yet foreign aid is only trickling in.
The West especially has a vital security interest in doing what it can to prevent Pakistan from sliding even further into turmoil. The slow pace of relief efforts has inflamed public anger against an unpopular government. The United States, to its credit, has committed more aid than any other nation. But the $87 million pledged so far is a drop of what Pakistan needs to cope with this disaster even over the coming days.
The United Nations has raised only one-third of the $460 million it has requested in foreign aid thus far. Pakistan needs much more, and it needs it immediately. Floodwaters have swept away homes, roads, bridges and hospitals. The United Nations worries that waterborne diseases could infect more than 3 million children. Allowing this crisis to fester will compound the suffering and monetary damage that the world community faces.
The World Bank announced Tuesday that it would fast-track $900 million to Pakistan for both disaster relief and longer-term reconstruction. That should help contain the heavy losses to crops and livestock, which could impact Pakistan for years. The United States should play a larger role by moving heavy equipment to the area and using its command and logistical abilities to coordinate the relief effort.
Pakistan's government needs to step up, take responsibility and be transparent throughout the recovery effort. Donors want to see that aid is being delivered where it is needed and doled out fairly. Any corruption of the aid effort on behalf of the Pakistani government will only make it easier for ordinary Pakistanis to sympathize with al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Saving lives now will help later in the battle over hearts and minds.