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Funding Lags to Aid Pakistan’s Millions of Displaced

Megan Iacobini de Fazio

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 16 2010 (IPS) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon returned from Pakistan Monday calling the floods there the worst disaster he has ever witnessed and urging the world community to speed up assistance to the Pakistani people.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to a group of women displaced by Pakistan's potent monsoon floods in Punjab Province. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to a group of women displaced by Pakistan's potent monsoon floods in Punjab Province. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ban, who made a helicopter flight over four districts in Punjab, one of the most populated and badly affected areas, described the scenes as “heart wrenching”, and said he would never forget the destruction and suffering in the flood-hit areas.

He announced a further 10 million dollars from the U.N.’s central emergency response fund, making a total of 27 million dollars dispersed so far.

Last week, the U.N. launched an appeal to donor nations for 459.7 million dollars, but by Friday had only raised 20 percent of that. However, there are now reports that the donations have reached 35 percent of the required sum.

Nick Reader, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), put the sudden increase down to Ban’s day-long visit to Pakistan this past weekend, which “helped raise awareness”.

“As more images continue to emerge, people are understanding how serious the crisis is,” Reader told IPS, adding that OCHA’s “assessment of needs is getting more sophisticated”.

Nick Clegg, the UK’s deputy prime minister, has called the international response to the floods “absolutely pitiful”.

He noted that the scale of the disaster is such that the public is struggling to understand just how great the need for aid is, and that that may be why donations are low compared to the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the January Haiti earthquake or the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Other reasons may include the slow pace of floods, compared to more sudden and “dramatic” earthquakes and tsunamis, and the relatively low death toll of 1,600.

Britain is currently at the top of the donor list, having given around 26 million dollars in relief, closely followed by Australia, the U.S., Canada and Saudi Arabia.

There has been some criticism over India’s hesitancy in coming to Pakistan’s aid, prompting claims that a political spat may be at the root of the belated and small pledge of five million dollars, which is only a tiny fraction of India’s 500-million-dollar aid budget for the year.

Critics claim that Pakistan was quick to help India after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, which killed 25,000 people.

The floods, which started in the northwest mountainous provinces and have affected 20 million people, have now spread to the southern provinces of Sindh and neighboring Balochistan.

John Holmes, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said last week that critical priorities include shelter, food assistance, clean water and emergency medical supplies.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has purchased around 69,000 tents, but supplies are dwindling because of the massive shelter requirements in hard-hit areas.

Some truckloads were unable to reach their destinations because of floods and landslides, so agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) are using donkeys to reach isolated areas like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

It is also important for emergency medical supplies to reach all affected areas, as the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation has massively increased the risk of diarrhea and skin diseases.

Reader told IPS that “the spread of water-borne diseases is one of the U.N.’s main concerns.” These include typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A and B.

The fears were confirmed by the discovery of the first cases of cholera in the Swat Valley last week.

Stagnant water is also an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, which spread malaria and dengue fever.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) is assisting the government in supplying medicines and vaccines,” Reader told IPS, adding that they are currently “ready to deal with up to 1.5 million cases of disease”.

Another concern is that terrorist and militant groups may be operating amongst the victims, offering food and shelter, to gain a foothold in the affected areas.

The warning comes from the U.N. special envoy for assistance to Pakistan, Jean-Maurice Ripert, who claimed that the terror group Jamaat-ud-Dawa may be “taking advantage of the circumstances to score points”.

When asked if the activities of these groups are of any immediate concern, Reader answered that the immediate focus is “on giving assistance to those who needed it”, and that OCHA “is working with a lot of good local NGO’s, with which it has worked in past crisis”.

However, many locals affected by the floods are reportedly unhappy with the government’s late response to the crises, sparking clashes and protests, especially in southern regions.

Without adequate donations by rich countries and a more prompt response by the Pakistani government, the floods risk having not only immediate and tragic consequences, but also severe long-term consequences on the country’s already fragile economy.

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