Apropos of NB's post on earthquake donations and the reactions to them, I would like to clear some things up.
First of all, questioning the need for tea to be delivered to earthquake survivors makes me neither a "scrooge" nor an "insensitive jerk". The pro-tea argument, it seems to me, is based on the following two premises:
1. Donations should not be restricted to "essential" items.
2. Tea can help people in cold weather feel warmer.
With regard to number two, I am sure blankets and tents can do a better job, and furthermore, are a more permanent solution (the quantity of tea available decreases after each use, but a tent or a blanket don't go anywhere even if you use them 1000 times).
As for number one, I don't really understand the objection. Look, there are scarce resources in the world at the best of times, and that scarcity is multiplied manifold during times of crisis. With that in mind, with resources totaling some value R, you can either
1. Buy essential items E for N people such that E*N=R.
2. Buy essential items E and nonessential items O for M people such that E*M + O*M=R, where M is less than N.
3. Buy essential items S and nonessential items O for N people such that S*N + O*N=R, where S is less than E.
In other words, if you start buying nonessential items for survivors with fixed resources, you either have to cut back on the number of people you're helping, or you have to cut back on the amount of essential items you're providing. There's no other way, and frankly, neither of those alternatives are worth it. Why does pointing out this fact make me an insensitive jerk? It's simple arithmetic.
On one level, this entire issue isn't really a big deal, because I doubt tea makes up more than 1% of the dollar amount spent by these charitable organizations, so arguing about it is quite futile. On another level however, it's very relevant in bringing up a fairly important issue: Pakistanis' addiction to tea.
As any Pakistani knows, we as a nation cannot do without this stuff. It is the one thing that unites us. Think about it: across religious, ethnic, provincial, gender, and socioeconomic lines, is there ANYTHING ELSE that all Pakistanis do? No, there isn't. I challenge our readers to name five Pakistanis they know on a first-name basis who don't drink at least two cups a day. I know for a fact I would fail this challenge.
What's the big deal, you say? Well, far be it from me to question people's private habits and preferences, but this is a national interest issue. Pakistan grows about as much tea as Antarctica, which is to say, none at all. We import it all.
How much do we import? Well, let's delve into some fun figures. Here's a recent statistical report on Pakistan's trade imbalance. You will find, if you go to page 26 of the report, that Pakistan imported 1.2 billion rupees worth of tea in the month of April 2008. Multiply that by 12, and you discover that Pakistan will import close to Rs. 15 billion worth of tea in 2008. That represents, by my calculations, more than one-tenth of our annual food-and-live-animals import bill.
Furthermore, this ignores all the sugar that goes into Pakistanis' tea, all the milk that goes into Pakistanis' tea, and, most importantly, all the water that goes into Pakistanis' tea. Think about how much weaker our sugar lobby would be if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow. Think about how much clean drinking water we would save if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow.
Of course, because we're addicted to tea, that is merely a pipe dream. But this isn't any old harmful addiction. Unlike hashish and heroin, Pakistan actually has to import the object of its citizens' addiction when it comes to tea. Importing something on the scale that we do with tea, when we don't need to, in times of economic peril and dwindling foreign exchange reserves that force us to go begging bowl in hand to the IMF, is a travesty.