Pakistan: UN agencies redoubling efforts amid still unfolding flood crisis

Flood victims collect one-month rations at distribution point in hard-hit Peshawar district

20 August 2010 – With the situation in flood-stricken Pakistan still unfolding, United Nations agencies said today they are redoubling their efforts to provide assistance to the millions of people affected by the disaster.

“The international community is mobilizing to provide aid to help the victims of the floods,” Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a news conference in Geneva.

“The situation is still unfolding… in some areas the flood waters are receding to reveal the utter destruction left behind, while in other areas the flood waters continue to rise, destroying homes, villages and crops.”

She added that the $460 million emergency response plan launched last week is now 55 per cent funded, with an additional $42 million in pledges.

Thanking all those who have contributed to boost relief efforts, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the generosity of countries and individuals will make a real difference in the daily lives of millions of people.

“We must keep it up. This is not just Pakistan’s hour of need – Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need. Now is our chance to turn the tide towards hope and a better day for all of the people of Pakistan,” he said in a statement issued today, following yesterday’s special General Assembly meeting on the issue.

UN Member States on Thursday voiced their solidarity with Pakistan, as they adopted a resolution calling for international assistance in support of the Government’s efforts to address the crisis, which is believed to have left 15 to 20 million people in need of shelter, food and emergency care.

The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that the humanitarian tragedy in Pakistan has reached “tragic proportions,” but that serious shortfalls in funding are limiting the agency’s ability to save lives as the crisis worsens.

“The consequences of the flooding for Pakistan’s poorest and most vulnerable people are very serious,” Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement, adding that the most vulnerable of all, the children, are at the greatest risk.

“Unless the world responds immediately, more and more of the 3.5 million children affected by the floods will be at risk of contracting deadly water-borne diseases like dysentery, diarrhoea and cholera,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also voiced concern about the increased risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases due to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and personal hygiene, food insecurity, lack of shelter, overcrowding and decreased access to health care.

The risks for many of the diseases could be reduced substantively by basic preventive measures, including access to clean water, appropriate sanitation and hygiene and ensuring food handling in a correct fashion as well as vaccinations, Daniel Lopez Acuña, WHO Acting Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises, told reporters in Geneva.

In the midst of the crisis, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today voiced concern about some Afghan refugees who are being pressured to repatriate by speculators around Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkwa, seeking to develop land that until now has been occupied by refugee settlements.

“UNHCR is increasingly concerned about the plight of flood-affected Afghan refugees in Pakistan,” spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.

There are 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, more than 1.5 million of whom are in the flood-affected provinces. In Khyber Pakhtunkwa province alone, more than 12,000 dwellings in refugee villages have been swept away, leaving almost 70,000 people homeless.

“UNHCR welcomes the assurances from federal authorities that all people affected by the floods should be able to return to their homes to rebuild, including Afghan refugees,” said Mr. Edwards, adding that he hoped that moves by land speculators will be blocked.

The floods, which began late last month in the wake of particularly heavy monsoon rains, have so far claimed 1,200 lives and destroyed homes, farmland and major infrastructure in large parts of the country.

In addition, millions of livestock have been affected by the floods and are in need of food and medicine, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Around 200,000 cows, sheep, buffalo, goats and donkeys have already been confirmed as dead or missing, but the agency said that the final numbers will be much higher, possibly into the millions.

“If you count poultry losses, then millions of animals have already died with the entire poultry stock wiped out in some areas,” FAO stated in a news release, adding that millions of surviving animals are now facing severe feed shortages, threatening generations of livestock, which make up about half of the Pakistan’s agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).

“Livestock in this country are the poor people’s mobile ATM,” said David Doolan, who is in charge of FAO programmes in Pakistan. “In good times people build up their herds and in bad times they sell livestock to generate cash. Every animal we save is a productive asset that poor families can use to rebuild their lives when the floods finally pass.”


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