Seizing the "Not Yet"

Nature's shock and awe eclipses almost any destruction that can be achieved with the product of a munitions factory.

The flooding in Pakistan presents a vision of an apocalypse in which normal life is brought to a devastating halt. Twenty million people have fled their homes and a country and a region now wonders whether it stands on the verge of a nightmare of disease and starvation.

Pakistan is no stranger to crises. This nuclear state was already racked by terrorism, and enduring turmoil in Kashmir and Afghanistan has the potential to swell into catastrophic war. But today, this week, this month, the doomsday scenario has not been triggered. In the strangest of ways, this is a time of opportunity.

The nation is at a crossroads and in the midst of the tragedy of the floods there is the possibility to help an ally and avoid future calamity.

The neo-conservative hope that the overnight transformation of Saddam Hussein’s regime into rubble, would result in the emergence of a prosperous, pro-western government has proven an expensive pipe dream. People were shocked that their electricity was not turned back on in the months after the invasion and did not respond to outrages such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal with emotions of awe.

But for a fraction of the cost of the occupation, we can provide aid that could house the homeless, prevent the spread of cholera and bring hope to 20 million people who will look to Islamist radicals for assistance if the country’s own government and the rest of the world do not help.

The United Nations has asked for £294m of assistance, which is the type of money – even in an age of austerity – the G8 should be able to gather in less time than it takes for a finance minister to sneeze. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost US taxpayers upwards of $1 trillion.

As political commentator Michael Ford commented in the Huffington Post, such a sum is the equivalent of paying $1m a day for 3,200 years. This would take us back to the time of the overthrow of Theseus as king of Athens.

In the UK we have demonstrated our willingness to bail-out our banks rather than risk financial meltdown.

But if we truly want to restore Pakistan to a position where neither a humanitarian catastrophe nor a nuclear armageddon loom on the horizon we should spend some of our loose change. If governments cannot get their act together, then corporations which want to see the region become the home of consumers and not extremists should foot the bill.

And if even the commercial world won’t move to save lives and win hearts and minds, then ordinary citizens should stump up the cash.

A Thursday column