This is very bad news:

Relief groups in Pakistan will be forced to stop or cut back supplies of aid to more than one million people fleeing a military offensive in the northern Swat valley unless the worst funding crisis in a decade is resolved.

Nine aid agencies said on Thursday they faced a shortfall in excess of 26 million pounds, which was needed to provide food, medicine, tents and clothes to families uprooted by Pakistan’s campaign to expel Taliban militants from Swat.

When both major international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations, which has received only $138 million (only $50 million from “rich countries”) out of a requested $543 million, are coming up so short on their funding appeals, we have a major problem on our hands. Sure, there are bureaucratic difficulties, but the humanitarian organizations themselves acknowledge the importance of a UN coordinating role (and of continued funding through both sources).  The onus of this shortcoming should fall on donor nations (yes, especially the wealthy ones).

Why such a paltry response to such a devastating humanitarian crisis? Well, the economic contraction is surely one explanation. The fact that the Taliban-induced displacement in Swat is not, unlike the earthquakes in Pakistan and China last year, the 2004 South Asia tsunami, or last year’s cyclone in Burma, a natural disaster also likely contributes, unfortunately, to people’s willingness to donate.

But the particularly confounding factor of this crisis, as others have pointed out, is that much of the displaced population — upwards of 80% — is being absorbed into neighboring Pakistanis’ homes. This is outstanding generosity, to be sure, but it neither obviates the need for humanitarian assistance nor creates a sustainable solution to the problem. And as I’ve said before, “even the most hospitable of families can only host 85 people in their home for so long.”

(image of a refugee camp in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, from Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons license)

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