UN steps up flood relief in Pakistan as number of people affected tops 17 million

26 August 2010

The United Nations is expanding its relief operations in Pakistan as the area inundated by flood waters continues to increase and the number of people affected by the disaster has climbed past 17 million.

An area of more than 160,000 square kilometres – greater than the entire size of England, Bangladesh or Cuba – has now been ravaged by floods since exceptionally heavy monsoon rains began falling in Pakistan late last month.

John Holmes, the outgoing UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters today at UN Headquarters in New York that the area affected is still growing as the floods are making their way across Pakistan into the southern tip of Sindh province, which borders the Arabian Sea.

The number of people classed as significantly affected is almost 17.2 million, while about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed or badly damaged.

“This is a disaster of unprecedented scale” in terms of the number of people and scale of area affected, stressed Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

He said about 70 per cent of the $460 million initially sought by the UN and its humanitarian partners for flood relief has either been contributed or pledged so far, while another $600 million has been provided or promised outside of that appeal.

But he said the response plan will have to be revised because the initial figures underestimated the number of people suffering from the disaster.

So far UN agencies have reached almost 2 million Pakistanis with emergency food supplies and an estimated 2.5 million with clean drinking water. Medical treatment has been provided to about 3 million people, while more than 115,000 tents and 77,000 tarpaulins have also been distributed.

The biggest fear remains potential epidemics of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and hepatitis. Malaria outbreaks are also a concern, particularly in areas that remain cut off from the outside world by the flood waters.

In total as many as 800,000 people are cut off by the floods and the UN has been seeking 40 heavy-lift helicopters to deliver aid to those hard-to-reach areas where roads have been washed away and bridges destroyed.

Stacey Winston, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Pakistan, stressed that the “road to recovery is still very long.”

Ms. Winston told UN Radio that there is “still lots to be done but we are scaling up and more people are receiving aid and so we are pressing on to try to reach as many people as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Holmes said that media reports today indicating that the Taliban has threatened to kill UN aid workers operating in the flood zone would not deter UN staff or their partners from carrying out their work.

While the UN would implement appropriate precautions and take the threats seriously, he noted that many of these threats existed before the flood crisis began.

Ms. Winston also said that there was no official confirmation so far of fresh security threats from the Taliban.

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