As the waters in Sindh continue to rise, the government of Pakistan has declared the floods this year to be a more dangerous catastrophe than the devastating 2010 floods and has begun briefing foreign diplomats and United Nations officials in Islamabad about the scale of the destruction in the hopes of attracting more foreign aid.
On Monday, the government arranged a special briefing for foreign diplomats, urging them to ask their governments to help Pakistan cope with the disaster, which officials admitted was beyond Islamabad’s capacity to deal with.
The briefing was delivered by Qamar Zaman Kaira, a member of the National Assembly and a spokesperson for the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. Among other officials who also briefed the diplomats were Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, Economic Affairs Secretary Wajid Rana and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Zafar Qadir.
“While the government had mobilised all national resources, the severity and magnitude of the floods had created a humanitarian emergency requiring support from the international community,” remarked the NDMA chairman.
The response from the international community thus far to President Asif Ali Zardari’s appeal for help, delivered on Saturday by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has been timid. Only Iran has thus far pledged a substantial contribution, promising $100 million in aid on Sunday, though China was the first to respond to the appeal, pledging $4.7 million in relief goods.
Among others briefing the diplomats was Timo Pakkala, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, who described his visits to the flood affected areas and concurred with the government’s assessment that international assistance would be required.
Pakkala’s boss, John Ging, the director of the coordination and response division at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, joined him in briefing officials at the Presidency about their visit to the flood affected areas.
Meanwhile, the government has already begun coordinating with the World Health Organisation to help prevent the spread of disease in the refugee camps that currently house millions of internally displaced persons.
The National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Network (NHEPRN) and WHO are undertaking a rapid needs assessment in the district affected in 22 districts in Sindh and two districts in Balochistan. NHEPRN and WHO are expected to ensure a coordinated health response during the emergency by assessing and analysing information, prioritising interventions and action plans , identifying gaps and mobilising resources for humanitarian action through a flash appeal for 2011 floods.
Flood victims are particularly vulnerable to malaria, skin diseases and other water-borne illnesses.
A WHO team visited several of the relief camps for active surveillance as part of a Disease Early Warning System (DEWS). In close coordination with district authorities, WHO DEWS teams responded to DEWS disease alerts and outbreaks, distributed essential medicines, aqua tabs, jerrycans, life straw filter, hygiene kits, bed nets, gas cylinder and other relief material in the camps.
DEWS team also provided health education in all camps. The WHO has supported routine immunisation in the affected districts. In all camps, a total of 14,397 children have been vaccinated against polio and 10,672 against measles.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2011.
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