Top UN officials call for scaling up assistance to Pakistan’s flood victims

31 August 2010

Top United Nations officials today urged the international community to boost their support for Pakistan’s flood victims, especially for the health and well-being of women and children who make up 70 per cent of the nearly 18 million people affected by the disaster.

“What I saw today has convinced me that we must step up our humanitarian operations to stave off a potential second wave of disease and misery for millions of families, especially the most vulnerable, children and women,” the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said following a visit to the Muzzafargarh district of Punjab province, one of the worst affected areas.

Anthony Lake toured the area with Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), who warned during a joint press conference in the capital, Islamabad, that there is a triple threat unfolding as the crisis widens and deepens.

“People have lost seeds, crops and their incomes leaving them vulnerable to hunger, homelessness and desperation – the situation is extremely critical. We urgently need continued and strengthened commitment to the people of Pakistan in this time of crisis.”

During their visit to Punjab, the two Executive Directors visited a school which has been turned into an emergency relief centre, where UNICEF hygiene kits were being handed out to families hit by the floods.

They also saw a WFP food distribution that included specialized ready-to-eat foods for infants and young children, designed to prevent the early ravages of malnutrition.

WFP has reached three quarters of a million children with nutritious food supplements and nearly three million people with a one-month food ration. Malnutrition rates in the flood zone were high before the surge of water displaced millions, leaving young children even more at risk to waterborne diseases, according to a joint news release.

UNICEF is currently reaching around 2 million people with clean water every day and the agency, through hygiene supplies and assistance in sanitation, is working to prevent serious outbreaks of disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that over half a million people have been treated so far for some form of diarrhoeal disease.

The agency is establishing diarrhoeal treatment centres throughout the affected areas due to the increased risk posed by the lack of access to safe water, poor sanitation and “compromised hygiene and living conditions” that millions of displaced people have to live in, it stated in a news release.

“The terrible scale of this disaster has shocked the entire world, and the increasing trend of diarrhoeal diseases remains a grave concern to the humanitarian community,” said Guido Sabatinelli, WHO Representative in Pakistan.

“The current situation remains a major threat to public health. If the current poor environmental and hygiene situation in affected areas does not improve, coupled with limited availability of safe drinking water and the need for better access to health services, the risk is we may see more potentially fatal diarrhoeal and other acute waterborne diseases cases in coming days.”

In addition to diarrhoeal diseases, other public health risks facing the estimated 17.6 million people affected by the floods are acute respiratory infections, hepatitis A and E, malaria and skin infections, WHO added.

Reproductive health also remains a significant concern in the wake of the disaster, UN officials warned today, especially given that an estimated half a million flood-affected women are expected to give birth during the next six months.

“We must ensure the health and safety of all these women and their babies,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan Martin Mogwanja. “This disaster has already affected almost 18 million people. We don’t want it to also affect half a million babies who are not born yet.”

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has set up labour rooms at a number of service delivery points in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, which provide emergency reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care.

The agency has assisted in some 5,600 safe deliveries since the waters started to ravage the country. At the same time, it stressed that additional support is urgently required to scale up life-saving health activities in affected areas.

“UNFPA has reported challenges in recruiting adequate numbers of female health care providers, especially gynaecologists, in flood-affected areas,” said Naseer Nizamani, Assistant Representative of UNFPA in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the nearly $460 million initial floods response plan for Pakistan launched by the UN and its partners remains 63 per cent covered, having received $291 million in funds and an additional $20 million in pledges.

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