Huge scale of Pakistani floods impeding relief efforts, says UN agency

10 August 2010
Millions have now been driven from their homes by the floods in Pakistan.

The United Nations refugee agency’s staff on the ground in Pakistan are calling the devastating floods among the most difficult situations they have faced, stressing that the catastrophe is also testing the limits of the country’s emergency response capacity, as well as that of the world body and other agencies.

“Thousands of villages and towns in low-lying areas have not seen flooding on this scale in generations,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters today in Geneva.

Pakistan’s Federal Flood Commission estimates that more than 300,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, more than 14,000 cattle have perished and 2.6 million acres of crop land is inundated.

So far, some 1,600 people have lost their lives in the flooding triggered by monsoon rains, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that 6 million people are in direct need of relief.

Tomorrow morning, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and representatives of the Pakistani Government will launch an appeal, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to respond to the floods.

“Let me stress now that we must also give thought to medium and longer-term assistance. This will be a major and protracted task,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press conference in New York yesterday. “I appeal for donors to generously support Pakistan at this difficult time.”

OCHA announced today that more than $44 million in funds have been received, with up to $91 million pledged.

The Office also noted that two thirds of those in need of assistance are in Punjab province, considered to be the bread-basket of the country.

UNHCR said that its relief work has been focused in northern Pakistan where flooding has been most severe.

“Normally, our work there is geared towards Afghan refugees and conflict-displaced Pakistanis, but in this instance, we are working equally for all affected communities, both Pakistani and Afghan,” Mr. Mahecic said.

Of the 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, 1.4 million are living in the hardest-hit flood areas, he noted.

So far, the agency has provided more than 41,000 plastic tarpaulins, 14,500 family tents, 70,000 blankets and other supplies, but deliveries have been impeded by flooded roads and other ruined infrastructure.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that weather conditions improved slightly yesterday, allowing its helicopters to take off for the first time in three days to help transport urgently-needed supplies.

The World Food Programme says that weather conditions improved slightly yesterday, allowing WFP to get its helicopters off the ground for the first time in three days to help the affected people in Pakistan.

Some 600,000 people had essentially been cut off in the upper Swat Valley in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PKP) over the weekend when poor weather prevented the aircraft from making deliveries.

To date, WFP has reached nearly 340,000 people with one month’s worth of food in the areas most affected by the torrential flooding.

For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which is coordinating the international health response in support of the Government, is treating tens of thousands of people via mobile and fixed health facilities. Since 21 July, WHO and its partners have carried out 200,000 consultations, out of which 5,000 were for diarrhoea.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that in KPK, intermittent rain continues to hamper efforts to deliver assistance, but the agency is supplying oral rehydration salts for more than 2 million children and is assisting in a measles vaccination campaign.


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