Pakistan floods the “worst in living memory”
Aug 13 2010
With an estimated 14 to 16 million people affected by what the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calls “the worst monsoon-related floods in living memory”, the U.N. launched a humanitarian flash appeal Wednesday seeking 459.7 million dollars for relief efforts in Pakistan.
“The disaster is continually getting worse,” said John Holmes, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
Speaking to reporters at the appeal’s launch, he noted that the number of people affected by the floods, which began nearly three weeks ago on Jul. 22, surpasses that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the January Haiti earthquake.
“The scale of the disaster is huge, the needs of the people affected by it are huge. That’s why we’ve appealed for 460 million dollars this morning to try to deal with the consequences of this disaster just for the immediate relief period,” Holmes said.
Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the U.N., Abdullah Hussain Haroon, was also present at the launch, and stressed the severity of the disaster, noting that the impact of the floods is expected to lower Pakistan’s projected GDP for this year from four percent to one and a half percent.
“Six thousand villages have been wiped off the face of the earth,” Haroon said. “You can’t get from one area to another – there’s no connection. The phones are down. The roads have blown away. It’s like going back to primordial history.”
He added that the floods had consumed 150,000 kilometres of land, with the number of casualties, estimated by OCHA to be at 1,200, difficult to approximate given the displacement of masses of people as a result of the floods.
Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for the secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, told reporters in a briefing today that 560,000 people still need emergency shelter and 2.7 million children still need urgent, life-saving care. And in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone – the province hardest-hit by the floods – 2.6 million people remain in need of food assistance.
“I have met people in Swat who have walked for days just to get food for their families to eat,” said Humanitarian Director of Oxfam Jane Cocking, who is visiting flood- affected people in the country. “This is a race against time,” she added.
The nearly half-billion dollar flash appeal is for the coming 30- to 60-day period. Holmes said that it would be updated at the one-month mark and would likely increase.
“With cholera – God forbid, if these things spread, you’re talking about much higher sums of money,” Haroon noted.
Martin Mogwanja, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan told IPS that aid needed for long-term rebuilding efforts could exceed one billion dollars.
“There’s going to be a tremendous cost in terms of repairing roads, bridges, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure and, most importantly, repairing irrigation infrastructure that ensures the capacity of the rural farmers of Pakistan to continue to produce the foodstuffs and cash crops that sustain them,” Mogwanja told IPS.
Prior to today’s flash appeal, Holmes said that the international community had pledged 150 to 160 million dollars. “We’re confident those figures will rise rapidly,” he added.
According to OCHA’s most recent figures released today, the U.S. has pledged 62.2 million dollars, the U.K. has committed 32.6 million dollars, Australia has committed 9 million dollars, Kuwait has committed 5 million dollars and Japan has committed 3.5 million dollars. These comprise the top five largest pledges by U.N. member states, with private assistance exceeding 9 million dollars.
With the flood-related destruction of roads and bridges throughout the country, physical access remains the greatest challenge in the relief effort.
Holmes noted the difficulty in access to areas controlled by insurgent forces even prior to the onset of this disaster.
“From our point of view, our immediate concern is giving people aid when they need it,” he said. “The politics of it cannot be the concern of the U.N. or humanitarian agencies.”
Meanwhile, another full week of rains is predicted. “It’s still going on – we don’t know how far this is going to go,” Haroon said.