The United Nations refugee agency today called for boosting relief efforts in the flood-hit province of Balochistan in south-western Pakistan, where some 2 million people have been affected by the recent disaster and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating.
“By any definition it is a humanitarian tragedy in Balochistan. We need to scale up our activities in the province, if not, I think we are heading for a major humanitarian disaster there,” Mengesha Kebede, Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Mr. Kebede, who just returned from a visit to Balochistan, said the situation in the remote province has been largely overlooked as attention followed the flow of the Indus River south, ignoring the mounting crisis to the west.
There are almost two million people affected by floods in Balochistan, he said, noting that over half of them have been displaced, including 600,000 who had fled flood waters in Sindh province.
“I have worked in humanitarian situations globally and worked in refugee camps in Africa during emergencies, but to be honest I had never seen a situation as devastating as I saw in Balochistan,” said the UNHCR official.
“I owe it to the people there to put this on the table and help end their plight,” he stated, stressing the need to focus on the areas of sanitation, shelter, food and health care.
There were some 28 camps set up in the province but conditions were a major concern. “We are focusing on identifying and improving the most critical issues in relation to camp layout, hygiene and health conditions,” he said.
UNHCR is one of numerous UN agencies that are on the ground in Pakistan to try to provide relief to the victims of the disaster, which has left a fifth of the country under water and affected over 17 million people.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has so far delivered one-month food rations to nearly 175,000 people in eight districts in Balochistan, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing water daily to over 200,000 people and has built emergency latrines in the most affected areas.
Stefano Savi, head of UNICEF’s office in Balochistan’s provincial capital Quetta, noted that, as in most disaster situations, children are among those most affected. “If we don’t scale up our nutrition activities, the lives of thousands of children are at risk,” he warned.
“The psychological impact of this disaster on children must also not be underestimated,” he added, “and this is why we are working to make their lives as normal as possible, through the establishment of child-friendly spaces and learning centres.”
The nearly $460 million sought by the UN and its humanitarian partners in the initial floods response plan for Pakistan is currently 63 per cent covered, having received $291 million in funds and an additional $20 million in pledges.
UNHCR has revised its section of the wider appeal from $41 million to $120 million as the needs of the flood victims continue to outpace the ability of aid groups to respond.
The award-winning Hollywood actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has released a video message this week in which she appeals to the public to step up their financial support for aid efforts in Pakistan.
“This is not just a humanitarian crisis – it is an economic and social catastrophe,” she said.