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Floods hit Asia hard, but few states demand aid

LONDON (Reuters) - Heavy flooding across Asia has devastated crops and may cause lasting damage as well as food shortages, but experts said governments in India, China or Bangladesh may be too be proud to ask for international aid.

A boy on a raft rows through the flooded bamboo houses at Ryerbazar in the capital Dhaka, August 21, 2007. Heavy flooding across Asia has devastated crops and may cause lasting damage as well as food shortages, but experts said governments in India, China or Bangladesh may be too be proud to ask for international aid. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

Countries like India often have vast state resources that dwarf anything Western aid groups or UN agencies can provide.

But some relief organisations are worried those governments would be too embarrassed to be seen begging for help -- even if their resources are inadequate to deal with disasters of a scale like the recent flooding.

“The larger the country, the more reluctant it is to ask for international assistance,” said one Asia-based Western aid worker who, like most aid staffers, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of their work.

“India has not, and will not, ask for international assistance even though half of Bihar is under water. China has not and will not.”

More than 1,700 Indians, Nepalis and Bangladeshis have been killed by flooding in the last few weeks, with hundreds of thousands left marooned or homeless. Some four million fled their homes after flooding in China, with crops left destroyed.

Western charities have launched appeals for aid but the governments have not asked for it. Ultimately, they often do accept help when it is offered.

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When flash flooding ripped through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, the government initially used its own food reserves and stocks before finally accepting an offer from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Western experts acknowledged that states like India and Bangladesh are able to provide much of what they need themselves -- thanks to their large militaries, significant food stores and long experience with disasters.

MATTER OF PRIDE?

“Over the years they have become highly sophisticated in addressing these things,” said Walter Middleton, vice president of international aid group World Vision.

“They have the resources, the manpower and professionalism in dealing with these disasters.”

But with governments effectively controlling access, both outside and local aid groups said they have tread carefully to avoid antagonising officials.

“I think it’s more a matter of pride that anything,” said one Western disaster expert from New Delhi. “India can cope. It certainly doesn’t want to ask its former colonial masters for anything. Why should it?”

In Pakistan, the government restricted access to flooded areas for international staff with little explanation. Aid workers there were reluctant to refer to a cholera outbreak, for fear of embarrassing and angering officials.

Some aid workers said those concerns can effectively get in the way of providing help.

“These countries have very large pools of very poor people and mainly for political reasons we don’t see them as potential recipients of international aid,” said a Western aid staffer.

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