9 December 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on United Nations Humanitarian Efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan

 


At a Headquarters press conference today, top United Nations relief officials described their recent trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan to assess ongoing humanitarian operations and the future needs in those neighbouring South Asian nations, which have faced conflict, food shortages and floods.


Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters that the United Nations was asking international donors for $678 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan next year to help some 7 to 8 million people there still going hungry and burdened by ongoing conflict and endemic natural disasters.


Ms. Bragg said she launched that appeal on Saturday during a mission to the South Asian nation, where she met with Government and United States military officials, the Provincial Reconstruction Team and humanitarian organizations in the capital, Kabul, as well as the southern city of Kandahar.


“The humanitarian situation in the country is simply not getting the attention that it deserves,” Ms. Bragg said, stressing that the new appeal aimed to change that.


Last year, two major floods had displaced thousands of Afghans, and food price hikes due to drought in the Russian Federation and floods in neighbouring Pakistan had left millions reliant on food aid.


But, the focus of NATO-led forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operating there was largely on security, governance and development, she said, although they and armed opposition groups in the country were keen to minimize the conflict’s affect on the Afghan population.


On a question about delivery access for aid workers, particularly in Federally Administered Controlled Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Pakistan, Ms. Bragg said aid agencies in the country had very limited access in the south and were concerned that it would be cut in the north if the conflict spread.


Also at the press conference, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed about her four-day trip last week to Sindh and Kyber Pakhthunkwa (KPK) provinces in Pakistan – her second visit to that nation to review relief efforts since it was struck in August by one of the worst floods in history.


The world’s attention on Pakistan was waning at a time when it continued to face major challenges, she said.  “This is an emergency which will continue for months to come and considerable relief efforts will continue to be necessary alongside recovery activities and development work.”


Last month, the United Nations and its partners distributed food to 6 million people.  In total, more than 4.3 million people had access to safe drinking water every day, emergency shelter had been handed out to 4.7 million people, and more than 7 million people had benefited from essential healthcare services.


But, the populations’ emergency food, water and other basic needs were still acute, with many people completely dependent on humanitarian aid, she said.  “With winter now setting in, I’m concerned that more needs to be done to ensure that the particularly vulnerable have a roof over their heads.”


Approximately 50 to 60 per cent of the flood water had receded, but it could take three to five more months for it to fully recede, especially in the southern province of Sindh, where large portions of the hardest hit areas were still under water, making it difficult to plant crops.  That could cause 80 to 90 percent of the affected population there, which depended on agriculture for its livelihood, to go hungry next year.


In the north-west province of KPK, the situation was more complex as humanitarian aid was needed for most of the 1.7 million refugees and 1.1 million internally displaced persons living there, she said.  The United Nations and its partners were ready to help people seeking to return home, but they needed more funds to do so, she said.  Relief organizations had received only 49 per cent of the $1.94 billion requested to cover projected aid costs.


“We have to stand up to the challenges and assist the people of Pakistan not just to survive, but to move on to the next stage which is to sustain their livelihoods,” she said.  This will not be an easy task.”


On a question about whether the Pakistani Government was doing enough to help flood victims, she said that during her trip she had witnessed the positive impact of the Government’s cash transfers to affected people, but also heard complaints that coverage was insufficient.


Asked why certain affected areas were not receiving aid, she said that the floods had affected almost 20 million people over a very large swathe of the country, including many areas that were off limits to aid workers due to security concerns, an issue she discussed during her trip with the Provincial Government there.


Asked about her specific proposals to keep the focus on relief and long-term reconstruction, she said that during her trip she had asked local and national media to draw attention to that need and, upon her return to Headquarters, she had briefed several Ambassadors in that regard.


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For information media • not an official record