UN scales up aid to flood-hit Pakistan despite huge logistical challenges

17 August 2010

Efforts by the United Nations agencies to scale up aid delivery to those affected by the massive floods in Pakistan continued today despite enormous logistical challenges posed by the devastated infrastructure that has left many areas accessible only by air after roads and bridges were destroyed by the deluge.

“We’re putting the final pieces in place on a distribution system which can reach the huge number of people in need in the shortest possible time,” said Wolfgang Herbinger, the country director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan.

“It’s a huge challenge, particularly in Sindh [province], where the delivery infrastructure is most constrained.

“We have assessments completed in most of the country so we know where needs are, we have NGO partners to do the distributions, and – at least for now – a steady supply of food leaving our warehouses,” Mr. Herbinger added.

The agency expects food distributions to have reached 1 million people with a one-month food ration by today. At least 6 million people are estimated to be in need of assistance, with the Red Crescent Society, Government departments, local authorities, businesses and private individuals all working in tandem with WFP to fill the food gap.

Distributions in Punjab and Sindh provinces have been gathering pace since the weekend, while deliveries in Balochistan started yesterday, according to WFP. Food aid distribution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province has been ongoing since 1 August. Hardest hit areas and communities are being prioritised where possible.

Trucks are being forced to take long detours to reach many distribution sites, causing delays and longer turnaround times before they can be loaded with further food supplies.

Helicopters are the only viable means to reach many areas which have been cut off, and WFP is in the process of moving three heavy-lift helicopters to Pakistan to join the 10 that have already been made available by the Pakistani Government.

In many areas of the Swat Valley, people have devised local solutions, picking up food from distribution sites and taking it home on their shoulders across areas where roads have been washed away. In the mountainous Shangla district, mules have been made available to help people get food home.

In an effort to ensure a continuous supply of food to those affected by the floods, WFP has set up new logistics hubs and warehouse facilities at Multan in Punjab and Sukkur in Sindh. The agency said it had enough food stocks currently for a first round of distributions, but will need significant additional donor support to continue assisting those affected in September.

WFP has so far received just over $30 million of the $150 million it needs for its operation in Pakistan in the next three months.

“Food, trucks, helicopters and manpower – it all costs money. We are making a very urgent and direct appeal to the international community to redouble their support to our efforts to assist the people of Pakistan,” said Mr. Herbinger.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it will today airlift a further 32 tons of plastic tarpaulins, soap and mosquito nets to Quetta aboard two cargo planes belonging to Pakistan.

Some 64 tons of tents, plastic sheets and other relief supplies were flown in yesterday on four flights from a UNHCR warehouse in Peshawar. The supplies will be used to meet the needs of the soaring number of flood-affected people in Balochistan currently camping on roadsides or seeking shelter in schools, stadiums and other public facilities.

“UNHCR continues to face a logistical challenge in getting aid in fast enough to meet this still unfolding crisis,” Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesperson, told reporters in Geneva. “In Balochistan, for example, people still need everything – shelter, food, clean drinking water and health and hygiene systems. Our supplies are dwindling. We need more airlifts and massive amounts of funding to meet the still unfolding crisis,” he added.

Meanwhile, flood waters have receded in parts of KPK, revealing the magnitude of devastation, but also giving UNHCR better access to communities to provide relief and assess their immediate and longer term needs.

Teams of UNHCR staff in KPK have observed more people returning to their damaged homes, clearing debris and sorting through the mud to try to salvage furniture and other belongings.

UNHCR technical staff are also in the field assessing damage to houses and the best way to provide transitional shelter to help those who can return. Latest estimates put the number of destroyed or badly damaged homes in the province at some 893,000, meaning shelter is likely to remain one of the key priorities for months to come.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for its part, warned that funding shortfalls could jeopardize its work in Pakistan, saying it lacked resources for its water and sanitation operation, even as millions of children remained at risk of waterborne diseases.

“We urgently need to scale up the distribution of water. If we are not able to do so because of lack of funding, waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery will spread and begin killing affected populations, especially children, already weak and vulnerable to disease and malnutrition,” said Martin Mogwanja, UNICEF’s representative in Pakistan.

He said UNICEF was providing enough clean water to an estimated 1.3 million people every day, but millions more remained in need.

Polio and measles are the other threats to the health of children in Pakistan, according to UNICEF, which is working with WHO and the Government to carry out vaccinations against the two diseases in relief centres. UNICEF is also supplying oral rehydration salts, a home based treatment for diarrhoea, but funding constraints meant that available supplies are limited.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), meanwhile, reported that among the flood-affected population, nearly 52,500 women are expected to give birth in the next three months and about 53,000 newborns will need health care. More than 9,000 of those women will need surgical interventions to address pregnancy-related complications in the immediate future.

“Millions of Pakistanis are suffering from this disaster and they need international solidarity,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “Women have special needs because they continue to give birth, regardless of the dangers surrounding them, and require timely medical care to ensure a safe delivery.”

UNFPA has deployed seven mobile service units that are fully staffed and equipped to provide emergency reproductive health care and psychosocial support to the affected communities. In addition, UNFPA is supporting 13 Government health facilities in 10 districts of the three affected provinces of KPK, Sindh and Punjab.

The Fund has also provided emergency reproductive health medicines, women’s hygiene kits, newborn kits and clean delivery kits that serve the needs of thousands of Pakistani women. It will also help distribute nearly 2,000 birthing kits.

UNFPA estimates that it will have a shortfall of $8.8 million for its efforts to meet the basic reproductive health needs of the affected population in Pakistan during the next three months.


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