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UN racing against time and weather to deliver aid to flood-hit Pakistanis

UN racing against time and weather to deliver aid to flood-hit Pakistanis

Displaced children await Ramadan food packages in Jalozai Camp
United Nations agencies are racing against time and weather to reach as many of the 14 million people affected by the recent floods in Pakistan as they can amid warnings of fresh floods and more rain across much of the South Asian nation.

“Agencies are accelerating their response to the crisis,” Elisabeth Byrs of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters in Geneva.

Ms. Byrs noted that 20 per cent of the almost $460 million requested by the UN and its partners to help Pakistan tackle the needs of flood-affected families has been received so far.

The funds requested under the emergency response plan launched in New York on Wednesday covers immediate priorities such as food, clean drinking water, tents and other shelter and non-food items, as well as medical supplies for those affected by the flooding, which began late last month in the wake of particularly heavy monsoon rains.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon intends to travel to Pakistan to see for himself the flood-hit areas and demonstrate the support of the UN and the international community for the people and Government, his spokesperson announced today, although no details of the trip were provided.

Humanitarian agencies in Pakistan are working day and night to deliver life-saving assistance to those in need, OCHA stated, while stressing that much more funding is required to do this in a timely manner.

“Relief supplies must reach women, men, and children as soon as possible, in order to avoid further death caused by waterborne diseases and food shortages,” said Martin Mogwanja, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan. “The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, and we want to keep it that way.”

More than 1,200 people have been killed, and at least 2 million left homeless, by the disaster which has also destroyed homes, farmland and major infrastructure in large parts of the country, most notably the north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Weather may be a factor in the relief efforts, with flood warnings announced for low-lying areas of Sindh province and scattered rains and thunderstorms expected across much of the country, noted Ms. Byrs.

Despite bad weather and massive destruction to bridges and roads, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it has been able to deliver a one-month ration of food to over 430,000 people, and hopes to reach over 2 million in the next 10 days.

“We’re particularly concerned about the needs of 600,000 people in the north of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province,” said WFP Pakistan Director Wolfgang Herbinger. “These people can only be reached by helicopter and for three days over the weekend, because of bad weather, our helicopters were not able to fly.”

In addition to using helicopters to get food to people in hard-to-reach areas, the agency is also employing donkeys to transport food supplies over rugged terrain off-limits to both trucks and helicopters.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is seeking to urgently restock shelter materials and family kits from its global stockpiles as it strives to get supplies into isolated areas, particularly Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

The agency has purchased more than 69,000 tents from local suppliers to assist with the relief operation with at least 8,000 tents now arriving each week. However, stocks of plastic tarpaulin – which currently stand at 160,000 sheets – are being rapidly depleted due to the enormous shelter requirements throughout the flood-hit areas, UNHCR said in a news release.

Five truckloads of UNHCR relief items that were dispatched from Peshawar to Quetta more than a week ago are still trapped by landslides and flooding, with only four trucks successfully passing through.

Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR’s Representative in Pakistan, said the crisis facing the country is enormous and warned that it will not be over when the flood waters recede.

“We believe that many more communities and refugee camps will literally surface, homes destroyed or very seriously damaged, with hunger and illness exposing in particular women and children to grave situations.”

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that a chartered flight carrying 100 metric tons of emergency relief arrived in the southern port city of Karachi yesterday, bringing with it health kits, nutrition supplies, midwifery kits and tarpaulins.

Some of these supplies will be dispatched to the worst affected areas of Sindh province, while the rest will be moved to other parts of the county – all with an emphasis on reaching women and children in dire need.

“This is the first major shipment of emergency supplies and we expect more to arrive in the coming days,” said the head of the UNICEF field office in Sindh, Andro Shilakadze. “Since our pre-positioned supplies in one of the major warehouses were washed out by floods, supplies received today were urgently needed.”

In the past three days, nearly 13,000 children, pregnant women and lactating women had been vaccinated against measles, polio and tetanus in different flood-affected areas, the agency added.

One of the major concerns for the World Health Organization (WHO) is the rising number of people seeking care for waterborne diseases. Between 1 and 9 August, the agency conducted 90 training sessions for health staff and water supply supervisors on chlorination and disinfection techniques.

It has also stressed the need to establish mobile clinics for areas with no access to health facilities. So far it had 1,900 facilities operating in Punjab, including 1,000 mobile clinics.