Although flood waters are receding in parts of Pakistan, conditions in the thousands of camps that have sprung up in recent weeks are still desperate, the United Nations refugee agency warned today.
Of particular concern, said Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is the growing crisis in Balochistan province in southwest Pakistan.
It “has had scant attention compared to areas closer to the Indus River,” he told reporters in Geneva, noting that 2 million people in Balochistan have been affected by floods, including 600,000 people who fled neighbouring Sindh province.
Waterborne diseases, shelter shortages and limited quantities of food for children are persistent threats, he added.
Yesterday, UNHCR representative Mengesha Kebede told a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, that there is a “humanitarian tragedy” unfolding 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,” he stressed.
“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 Mr. Kebede, who just returned from the province.
Thousands of families are also now living on the streets in southern Sindh, lacking water and sanitation, UNHCR reported today.
Some 20 per cent of those uprooted by floods are returning to their villages to salvage their belongings and protect their property, according to Pakistani authorities, but others are expected to remain displaced for months.
“There is urgent need to improve conditions for the displaced and support people in returning home,” Mr. Edwards stressed.
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 more than 17 million people.
For its part, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it has reached 3 million people with monthly food rations in August, voicing hope that it will double that number this month.
But urgent donor support is vital for the agency to accelerate its deliveries of special food for infants and young children, as well as to airlift supplies to hard-to-reach areas.
“In times of trouble, food assistance promotes peace and stability, bringing calm in the face of volatility and meeting a fundamental human need,” WFP said in an update.