As is to be expected—assuming, of course, one not to be plagued by bourgeois optimism—the lived-situation in much of Pakistan some two months after unprecedented torrential rains provoked devastating floods that inundated some 20 percent of the country is rather desperate. Massive extents of the southernmost Sindh province remain to date underwater, and it is estimated that they will remain so for the next one to three months; indeed, the Guardian’s Declan Walsh has described the region as an “inland sea.”1 Floodwaters have receded in the country’s northern provinces and in the central province of Punjab, but silt left behind in the latter by floods are now said to cover large swathes of land previously dedicated to agricultural production.2 General Nadeem Ahmed, chairperson of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, recently asserted before the U.N. that Pakistan at present is providing only 20 percent of the food needed for flood victims and 18 percent of the emergency shelter that is needed.3 Though the World Food Program claims it has provided food for 4 million Pakistanis to date, an additional 6 million in need go without.4 Furthermore, aid workers have announced that 2 million cases of malaria could well be expected in the coming months, as malarial mosquitoes breed en masse in the stagnant waters created by floods in Sindh.5 Available fresh-water supplies are direly lacking: an estimated 13 percent of water and sanitation needs have thus far been met, and the U.N. has reported more than 800,000 cases of diarrhea, mostly affecting women and children.6 UNICEF has warned that 105,000 Pakistani children are at risk of dying of malnutrition in the next six months.7
Given the enormity of the suffering presently being experienced in Pakistan, and in light of the entirely inadequate response afforded to date by the international community, it would seem that Max Horkheimer is mistaken in finding the “moral sentiment” to be “expressed” in the “relief efforts” that normally follow disasters like earthquakes, mining accidents, or the present floods and their aftermath.8 In requesting $2 billion in aid for Pakistan, the U.N. has made the largest single relief-appeal in its history; as of late September, some $434 million had in fact been delivered.9 Relief resources are being led by the U.S., which has thus far pledged $435 million, and the U.K. and Australia, which have promised $210 million and $75 million respectively. Such outlays, of course, are radically inadequate, considering that Pakistan’s government has estimated the damage done by the floods to amount to some $43 billion; they are hardly “quite generous,” as Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has termed them. Such amounts are in addition rather insignificant when compared, for example, to the recently proposed $60 billion arms-deal to be sold by the U.S. to Saudi Arabia. Talk of cancelling Pakistan’s $49 billion debt-burden, accrued largely by the collection of dictators that have ruled over Pakistan during much of the country’s 63-year history, is nowhere to be found among proposals being hegemonically considered; dominant powers instead seem to be attempting to introduce “shock-doctrine” reforms in the country, as stipulated in recent weeks by World-Bank president Robert Zoellick, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, U.K. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, and the International Monetary Fund itself.10
In an audio-tape released on the internet on 1 October, a presumed Usama bin Laden fiercely denounced ongoing relief efforts in the embattled country in which he is claimed to reside. Though his politics are clearly reactionary, his following characterization of the present situation in Pakistan does not seem to be entirely incorrect: “Millions of children are out in the open air, lacking basic elements of living, including drinking water, resulting in their bodies shedding liquids and subsequently their death.”11
It should be mentioned that anthropogenic climate change is almost surely largely responsible for the devastation suffered by Pakistan’s peoples in recent months. The average-global temperature increases experienced to date are almost entirely the work of Western industrial capitalism; the perpetuation of this horrible system promises the recurrence of climatic catastrophes like those experienced in recent memory in Pakistan throughout the world—only more frequent and more severe. It is in this sense that Horkheimer is correct when he asserts that the “moral sentiment” is “easily silenced and forgotten in the face of the monstrous injustice which takes place for the sake of pure property interests.”12 The only hope for the world—and in particular, for its residents who are “without hope”13—is the introduction into history of revolutionary discontinuity.
1“Still marooned: plight of flood-stricken villagers in Pakistan’s Sindh province,” The Guardian, 4 October 2010
3Tom Peters, “International aid for Pakistan flood victims grossly inadequate,” World Socialist Web Site, 24 September 2010
5Declan Walsh, “Malaria threatens 2 million in Pakistan as floodwaters turn stagnant,” The Guardian, 3 October 2010
6Peters, op. cit.; Walsh, op. cit. (4 October)
7Peters, op. cit.
8“Materialism and Morality,” Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993), p. 42
9Peters, op. cit.
11“Unlikely activist? Osama bin Laden calls for action on climate change,” The Guardian, 2 October 2010
12Op. cit., p. 42
13Walter Benjamin, qtd. in Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon, 1964), p. 257