GENEVA: The United Nations said on Tuesday that aid for Pakistan’s flood victims would focus on the survival needs of six million people, as it prepared to ramp up the relief effort with an international appeal for funds.
“We are focusing for now on six million people who are in need of direct humanitarian assistance, meaning that they need it to survive,” said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).
Byrs said the figure of 14 million affected was a broader measure given by Pakistani authorities that included the direct and indirect impact of the country’s worst flooding in living memory, extending from the homeless to longer term damage such as crop losses or loss of earnings.
UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, will launch the international appeal for funds in New York on Wednesday, along with Pakistani officials, Byrs said. She told a news agency that the number of victims targeted by the appeal had yet to be finalised.
But it is likely to be among one of the biggest relief efforts in the UN’s history in terms of the number of people in need.
Ocha officials have said the disaster eclipsed the scale of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti put together. Byrs said about five million people were targeted by aid in the Indian Ocean tsunami, while the estimated 300,000 homes destroyed in Pakistan rivalled the numbers seen in Haiti’s devastating quake.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicated on Monday that the UN would ask donor nations for several hundred million dollars. The huge scale of the devastation wrought by monsoon rains from the north to the south of Pakistan was testing aid agencies “to their limits”, said Andre Mahecic, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
He said Afghan refugees were also caught up in the disaster, with 1.4 million of the 1.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan living in the worst hit areas. The aid challenge was amplified by areas that are still cut off or can only be reached by donkeys, security concerns in some areas, helicopters repeatedly grounded by bad weather, roads that have been swept away, as well as the sheer numbers in need of shelter, food, and clean water, relief officials said.
“We’re covering a limited extent at this point, so we think that relief operations should be massively scaled up,” said UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) spokesman Marco Jimenez.
The World Food Programme said it had been able to deliver one-month food rations to nearly 340,000 people so far. “We’re expecting that about two million people will likely need help for at least three months,” at a cost of about 150 million dollars for food aid deliveries alone.
The World Health Organisation said medical supplies were deployed for 800,000 people over the coming month, while 5,000 cases of diarrhoeal illnesses were treated, but the international response so far was “insufficient”.
“Many districts have no access to medical care. The number one problem remains access to clean water,” said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.
Meanwhile in Islamabad, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan Martin Mogwanja along with Special Envoy of United Nations Secretary General Jean Maurice Ripert and UN Resident Coordinator Onder Yucer, told a news conference, “Out of the 14 million figure of the people affected, eight million are from Punjab, 4.7 million from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 1.1 million so far from Sindh.”
“There is a need for immediate assessment. Donors’ response is not yet adequate though we are counting on international communities and organisations,” he added. Maurice informed that the UN Secretary General has provided USD100 million from the central fund for the relief of affectees.
“It is the biggest catastrophe affecting nearly 14 million people, thousands of villages, roads, bridges and irrigation systems,” he said and reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to continue the relief efforts.
“Our team is here to assist Pakistani authorities formulate a relief and rehabilitation strategy though we need hundreds of millions for immediate relief,” he said. “We have to work fast and for a long time to meet the emergency needs and then rehabilitate and reconstruct and build the capacity of the disaster response organisations,” Maurice said. So far, less than two dozen countries have made pledges, but the pledges are not significant.
The special envoy said that the UN was ready to review the advisory it had issued to its agencies against traveling to Pakistan on security reasons. He said the United Nations has learnt from past experience when it appealed to rehabilitate the Internally Displaced Persons due to the Malakand Operation launched against the extremists. Against pledges of $565 million the donors had only provided a little over $250 million.
“Last time pledges were made with certain confusion in the minds of the donors. We have completed extensive dialogue with the government and proper tools have been drafted to channel the world aid. This time the international community cannot say no, as the institutions are in place to monitor the assistance,” he added.
Onder Yucer said, “We also need to assess the damages and rehabilitate at a faster pace so the country is able to continue progressing and meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”
He also mentioned that 20 to 30 per cent affected people have lost their legal and identification documents. “We are trying to access the areas and ensure that post flood epidemics do not break out.”
The United Nations representatives also mentioned to relief activities and provision of food items, blankets, clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. When asked if the UN will lodge a flash appeal, Maurice said the affectees are receiving assistance from different channels like bilateral contribution and contribution through the UN and the Red Crescent. “Several countries have sent assistance to the tune of 100 million dollars. UN Secretary General has himself appealed to the international community.”
Supplementing the reply, Onder Yucer said, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank shall be assessing damages in collaboration with other government agencies.
Replying to another question, Mogwanja said a response plan would be ready within a couple of days for immediate and urgent response. “NGOs working with the UN are there from day one and we are committed to providing support to the people.” He said, “It is a difficult time and there is a need for the Pakistani private sector and the community to help out in this hour of need. We need untiring efforts to rehabilitate schools, infrastructure, telecommunication and roads system and losses to agriculture, livestock and livelihood,” he said. (AGENCIES WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAHBAZ RANA
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.