6 August 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Pakistan Flooding by United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator

In the coming days, the United Nations would launch a flash appeal and announce its interim emergency response plan to bolster and better coordinate humanitarian relief to the estimated 4 million people affected by Pakistan’s worst flooding in 80 years, Martin Mogwanja, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, said today.

“It’s very urgent that this gets released,” Mr. Mogwanja told correspondents at Headquarters via videoconference from Islamabad.  The funds would pay for emergency food, health care, clean water, sanitation and shelter over 90 days, as well as community restoration, agricultural protection and logistical support for damaged transport infrastructure.

The Secretary-General had already authorized $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for Pakistan, Mr. Mogwanja said.  But that money, plus the $9.8 million received by the Organization’s local emergency relief fund and the $16 million given to its agencies on the ground, was not enough to mitigate the crisis spanning four of the country’s largest provinces.

United Nations contingency funds were already running out, and relief disbursed to affected areas so far — 500 metric tons of food from the World Food Programme (WFP), clean water for more than 700,000 people from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over 11,000 tents from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and more than 40 cholera kits to health centres from the World Health Organization (WHO) – was just a fraction of what was needed, he said. 

The deadly floods, triggered by monsoon rains, had spread in the last week from the north-west, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as neighbouring Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, down the country to Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh provinces in the south-west, destroying or badly damaging more than 250,000 homes and rendering 1.5 million people homeless, he said.

As the floods moved south along the Indus River, they could inundate southern parts of Sindh, which had suffered small-scale flooding so far, he added.  An estimated 1,400 people were dead, but that figure could rise as new bodies were found.  The disaster was “on a par” with the 2005 Kashmir earthquake in terms of the number of people needing assistance and damage to infrastructure.

The on-the-ground response effort, led by the Pakistani Government’s National Disaster Management Authority, had already evacuated by boat or helicopter more than 50,000 people trapped on rooftops, in buildings and on small islands, he said.  The United Nations had dispatched assessment response teams in the affected south-west provinces.

“At this stage, urgent relief is required for the hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced and are taking shelter in school classrooms and any kind of Government building which is available,” Mr. Mogwanja said.

The top priority was to provide shelter and non-food items — such as cooking sets, buckets, blankets and hygiene kits — as well as food, clean water, sanitation and good health care in case of an outbreak of waterborne diseases, he said.  In the long term, the United Nations would work with Government and international partners to help Pakistan recover from the massive loss of field crops, and rebuild damaged roads, bridges, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure, factories and markets.

Asked why he believed 4 million people had been affected when others had put the figure at 12 million, Mr. Mogwanja said his estimates were based on data from Pakistan’s provincial disaster management authorities.  The number could rise if floods moving south along the Indus River caused more embankments to break in southern Sindh province.

In terms of total aid needed, he said $150 million to $200 million for relief and recovery efforts in the coming weeks and months, and possibly more if the impact of flooding was severe in south Sindh.  The cost of repairing damaged infrastructure, particularly vital irrigation systems for rural farmers, could reach $1 billion.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, 80 per cent of the water systems were now polluted with silt and other runoff, Mr. Mogwanja said.  United Nations and non-governmental organization aid had only reached an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of the population; many people had yet to receive adequate food, clean water and shelter.  In that province’s mountainous north, the destruction of 66 bridges had isolated 154,000 villagers.  Relief agencies were using helicopters to distribute food.

Asked if the water-logged terrain had prevented people from burying the dead, he said indeed it had, in many cases.

On the number of missing persons, he said there was no reliable estimate, because not all affected areas had been accessed and many families had been separated, making it difficult to know who was alive.  Relief workers were trying to find the parents of young children separated from their families.

Asked when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari would return to the country, Mr. Mogwanja said he did not know.  He also declined to comment on the President’s absence.

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For information media • not an official record