Leading article: Double standards for disaster relief

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The Independent Online

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has accused the international community of double standards on aid. The Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina both raised much more, he said, because Western tourists were caught up in both. It is instructive to wonder at the difference.

Of course, more people were killed in the tsunami - 230,000 compared with 80,000 in the earthquake, though a lot more than that will die if the world continues to dally. The explanation may be more crass. There was something novel about the tsunami so it captured the world's overstimulated imagination. It also happened the day after Christmas when the need on our television screens contrasted most starkly with our own festive overindulgence. And in the case of the hurricane, the natural disaster was clearly happening to "people like us".

Some have blustered about Pakistan's military spending. President Musharraf went some way to addressing that yesterday by postponing the purchase of American F16 fighter jets to provide more relief for earthquake victims. But that will not go far. The money that Pakistan will save is a mere 10th of what quake reconstruction will cost.

There is a more obvious reason for the world's disregard. Those affected are among the poorest and, therefore by the world's utilitarian calculus, the most unimportant people on the planet. Remote in the 15,000 devastated villages of their mountain fastness they are out of the world's sight and therefore of its mind.

But, as radio phone-ins and websites make clear, they are not forgotten by Muslims who see the neglect as yet another indication of the disdain with which they feel their religion is treated. The need to keep Pakistan as an ally of the West in the so-called war on terror alone ought to motivate the rich world to act, if pure human compassion is not sufficient spur.