Trust deficit in relief work: civil society's effective response

Trust deficit in relief work: civil society's effective response
SHAMS KASSIM-LAKHA, Business Recorder, August 28, 2010

ARTICLE (August 28 2010): The floods in Pakistan are described to be of "Biblical proportions". The same rivers that provided a lifeline to its people over the centuries have now submerged a fifth of Pakistan's landmass and made 20 million homeless. Along with the daily dose of newspaper stories and television footages showing images of destruction, destitution, hunger and disease are tales of governmental apathy and mismanagement.

While it would be easy to sensationalise such a situation, it can be said that the magnitude of the tragedy is beyond the scope of any single government. The Katrina tragedy in New Orleans showed that even the most powerful government on earth proved ill equipped to handle the situation. This does not of course excuse a perceived lack of timely action. Nor should it cast a shadow on the heroic work of the military and some local governments.

Perhaps the most effective in the delivery of relief at the grass roots level is Pakistan's civil society. Pockets of credibility and excellence in the civil society sector have slowly become major recipients of flood relief aid donated by local and international philanthropists. Robust as it is, civil society too is not fully equipped to match the task at hand without continued support of government, the people and the international community.

A 1999 landmark study of philanthropic giving by Pakistanis representing all economic segments showed them to be among the most generous on earth, far exceeding the charitable giving in most developing countries. In fact, they gave the same in terms of their per capita income as did US citizens who are regarded the most generous.

Yet many did not give as much as they could afford simply because they lacked trust in those charged with responsibility to direct funds where they were most needed. As a result, leaders of civil society, business and government in Pakistan, with backing from the Geneva-based Aga Khan Development Network, itself a major non-profit social development agency of the world, established the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP).

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