Pakistani floods creating a new disaster every day, UN relief chief says

Even as the water recedes in much of Pakistan, getting around the country by road is still rough going

15 September 2010 – The United Nations is seeking a further half billion dollars or more for 21 million Pakistanis beset by weeks of flooding, which a top official said was spawning a new disaster every day.

“It will be substantially more than the original appeal,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos told a news conference in New York today, a month after the UN and its humanitarian partners sought nearly $460 million in a first response to what she called “an immense and still unfolding crisis.”

She declined to disclose the exact figure of the appeal until its official launch on Friday to respond to the devastating impact of the rolling floods which, though they have killed fewer than 2,000 people, have exposed 21 million others to homelessness, malnutrition, risks of epidemics and loss of livelihood as the waters have steamrollered down the country from north to south.

Different parts of the country are experiencing different stages of the crisis “and each of these is a big disaster in its own right,” she said. In some areas the waters have receded and the relief effort is focusing on early recovery, while in others to the south the floods are still spreading “and a new disaster is happening literally every day.”

Ms. Amos, who visited the flood-stricken areas last week, underscored the expanding requirements. “This is a disaster which is bigger than one which the UN can deal with alone. It’s bigger than the humanitarian community can deal with on its own. It’s one of the biggest disasters we have ever faced… We can and we must continue to save lives and alleviate suffering,” she said.

It has been “over a period of time – it’s actually nearly two months now – that the water has been moving from north to south, so it’s the equivalent of a new crisis every few days. It is putting a huge strain on the capacity that we all have to manage that.”

After seven weeks of devastation and human suffering the crisis is no longer new but “we have to work very hard to change that,” she stressed. “People are still hungry and we’re all very worried about malnutrition levels. Skin diseases are on the rise because there’s a lack of soap and clean water for washing. Diarrhoea is on the rise and we need to make every effort to avert a potential health crisis.”

As of 10 September more than 700,000 cases of acute diarrhoea, at least 800,000 acute respiratory infections, nearly 1 million cases of skin disease and almost 183,000 suspected malaria cases were reported.

“An immense tragedy continues to unfold,” Ms. Amos said. “The human implications of what will happen if not enough is done are terrible. Many millions have already lost everything and have nothing to go back to… What I will be doing [on Friday] is asking our supporters to dig deeper and to do more.”

Ever since the floods struck UN agencies have been striving to bring succour. Three of them – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) – announced today that they are accelerating aid to millions people who are vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition.

Together, the agencies are ramping up complementary programmes such as emergency food and nutritional assistance, distribution of agricultural inputs such as seeds, animal feed and veterinary supplies, rehabilitation of damaged land and infrastructure and microfinance activities.

WFP reached 3 million flood victims with food rations during August and is scaling up to reach 6 million this month, particularly through an expansion of operations in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, which remains largely under water.

With 80 per cent of the flood-affected population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, loss of stored seeds, grains, and animals has rendered farming families extremely vulnerable. FAO is currently reaching 1.6 million people with distributions of wheat seed, fertilizer, vegetable seed kits, animal feed and veterinary supplies for livestock. With increased donor support, it could double the number of beneficiaries in the coming months.

IFAD, which seeks to improve the livelihoods and productivity of poor rural people, currently has five projects in the country; four of these, worth over $100 million, have been affected by floods. The agency will play an active part in the post-flood rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Meanwhile UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, whose agency (UNHCR) also provides assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), is on a two-day visit to flood-devastated areas.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Health risks in flood-hit Pakistan still a major concern, say UN agencies

Related Stories





Press briefing by Valerie Amos - 15 Sep. '10

More videos »


In-depth Interviews