Atle Hetland The New Year has begun and we stride along with our old baggage and perhaps with some new ideas and plans, which we sometimes term New Years Resolutions. And since we are not politicians, most of us, we might be able to keep some of our promises, if we indeed want to. Politicians, though, promise what they cannot keep, simply because they aim too high and often because unforeseen conditions change reality. For example, in Pakistan, last year, nobody in their worst nightmares could have foreseen the terrible floods. They changed everything for the people affected and for the country as a whole. The economic crisis and recession made President Barack Obamas election promises for job creation fade fast. Instead of creating jobs, as many as two million, I think he promised, the country has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. He can claim it would have been even worse without his policy measures. Yet, the unemployment rate in the United States is about 10 percent. In California, one of the richest states, and among one the worlds larger economies, unemployment has reached 20 percent. What a disgrace, for the worlds richest country with such enormous resources - and enormous consumption of resources. How come they cannot be able to find a decent way of sharing and caring to include all its citizens? Obama did get a new health bill through the Congress, although with compromises. The richest country in the world does not yet have a health system as fair for all, as the one we have had in my home country Norway since the 1950s, and that time Norway was a relatively poor country. Rich countries - and poor countries too - must learn to share their resources, not behave like the Americans just did when they gave tax relief to the richest elite, while the poor do not even have jobs and income at all, making them unable to look after themselves and help the country recovering. The unemployment benefits are not available for those who become long-term unemployed. They have to live at the mercy of charity from religious and other organisations. Remember then that they may have been pillars of the society, but external factors led to their destitution. Do they not deserve to live in dignity, especially when their country can well afford it? And how are things in Pakistan? Quite a bit like they are in America, and even worse at public level, but better at social-family level. The rich live well in Pakistan, probably on borrowed time, while the poor have to tighten their belts and fend for themselves. After the floods struck, some donors demanded that Pakistan increased its own tax collection, as a condition for being given assistance from abroad. True, there is need for higher taxation of the upper strata of the society. In practice, though, the rich often slip through the net and escape any new taxation. On the other hand, I didnt like that foreigners demanded higher taxation as a condition for giving aid. If there is an emergency, people have the right to receive help, without any conditions at all, especially after an emergency of such dimensions as the floods in Pakistan. Debate about taxation should be seen as a domestic issue. I am glad that special taxes are being introduced to help people in particularly difficult situations. Let us hope that the additional funds collected will be made right use of and reach the most needy. But what about the expectations we had from the international community to deliver aid after the floods, and the promises given? Has the United Nations system and the foreigners kept their promises? They were arrogant and righteous with the countrys government and administration, and indirectly praising themselves. So now we have good reasons for taking them to task. Whereas the UN is essential at the initial stage of any emergency, for practical response and for coordination of fund-raising, the UN depends on cooperation with local implementing partners, including the countrys government, not least at regional and local levels. In addition, we should know that the UN at best reaches a quarter of those who need help after a disaster, often a lower percentage. The rest are left to fend for themselves, with the countrys own, imperfect structures. Consider, too, the high cost of international aid. Thus, the results leave much to be desired. We should continue to investigate the UNs performance in Pakistan. I hope that in future, Pakistans own structures can be used to a much greater extent, both for ordinary development aid and for humanitarian and emergency aid. The origin of funds should not play any role, whether they are international, local, private or public. As for implementation, the private sector and NGOs must play a role, but policies and coordination must be in the hands of the government, with all local and international partners proactively accepting that. Natural or manmade disasters add to any countrys development problems. Pakistan and Afghanistan have for long had their fair share of problems. Afghanistan has been at war. Pakistan has been a host country for refugees and, in recent years, a large number of IDPs. Although there are still unmet needs after the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, I believe Pakistan kept its promise and built back better after the earthquake. We should be proud of this fact. We should also be proud of the fact that Pakistan has done well, as a host country for refugees. Yet, the international community should provide better funding. If the refugees were in Europe, I am sure they would have been treated better as for education, training and jobs, especially since the situation is protracted. The same goes for IDPs in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We should not forget that people become displaced much because of international politics, rather than local issues. As a social scientist, I cannot write about promises and results without mentioning a few aspects related to general poverty. Above, I touched upon unemployment. In a country like Pakistan, there is no or only a rudimentary government safety net for ordinary people. So if people lose their jobs, fall sick, get injured and cannot work, and so on, thats it. People who need help are at the mercy of their relatives. That is in many ways a good system because the social responsibility within the Pakistani family system is generally admirable. However, there should also be a public system, similar to that the some 10 percent of the population with military and other senior government jobs enjoy. I am sure that every government since Pakistan came into being has wanted to give better education to larger proportions of the population, eventually to comprehend all. As a matter of fact, the right to education for all up to secondary level was written in Pakistans Constitution, to be provided as soon as possible. Yet, six decades later, the promise remains unfulfilled. I think it is fair to say that the current government has not made serious efforts towards achieving education for all. And if Pakistan does not have basic education and literacy for all, everything else pertaining to modernisation and democracy will move slowly. If Pakistanis had been so radical and extremist as the media in the West often claims, I would have been worried about Pakistan in 2011. But since all, but a tiny few, Pakistanis are extremely sensible and considerate people, I am not worried. If the difficulties that Pakistanis have to face in 2011, and find some sort of solutions to, had been in several other countries I can think of, I would not have been pessimistic. Now, however, I have hope and I am even optimistic for good results in the New Year and the 'New Decade we have just entered. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist currently based in Islamabad. Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com