Pakistani flood affected victims struggle for water from a water tank in Thatta in southern Sindh province. The UN warns farmers urgently need seeds. AFP photo
Relief efforts in flood-ravaged Pakistan are being stretched by the “unprecedented scale” of the disaster, with the flow of international aid almost at a standstill, according to the UN.
Thousands remain trapped by floodwaters in the hardest-hit southern province of Sindh, while others are complaining of going without food or water for days and some are being forced to live in the rubble of their ruined homes.
Although the initially slow pace of aid had improved since a visit by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in mid-August, the U.N. said it had “almost stalled” since the beginning of last week, rising from 274 million dollars to 291 million dollars – about two thirds of funding needs.
The deluge has engulfed an area the size of England, affecting more than 18 million people, including eight million who are dependent on aid handouts to survive. “Given the number of those in need, this is a humanitarian operation of unprecedented scale,” Manuel Bessler, head of the U.N.’s coordination agency OCHA, said in a statement. “We need to reach at least eight million people, from the Karakoram Mountain Range in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south.”
The floods have ruined 8.9 million acres of rich farmland, and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, or FAO, said farmers urgently needed seeds to plant for next year’s crops.
The World Food Program has warned that Pakistan faces a triple threat to food supplies – with seeds, crops and incomes hit. Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N. Abdullah Hussain Haroon on Thursday called for an investigation into claims that wealthy landowners diverted flood waters towards villages to protect their crops.
“It is suggested in some areas, those to be protected were allowed, had allowed, levees to be burst on opposite sides to take the water away. If that is happening the government should be enquiring,” Haroon told the BBC’s HardTalk program.
In southern Pakistan, hundreds of hungry and desperate families from a relief camp in the city of Thatta blocked the highway to Karachi for three hours Wednesday, demanding the government provide more food and shelter.
“No food or water has been provided to us for the past two days,” Mohammad Qasim, a 60-year-old resident of the flooded town of Sujawal, said. Meanwhile the international Red Cross, or ICRC, said growing resentment among flood victims about the pace of aid delivery was hampering the relief effort.
Jacques de Maio, the head of operations for South Asia for ICRC, said it had to halt two distributions recently due to unrest. “What we are detecting is a very worrying trend of areas where … people are so in need, so resentful of not getting enough aid, that they turn understandably aggressive and this is bad because it doesn’t help in our efforts to reach more of them,” he said. “We are worried because if this trend extends, propagates,” it could hinder the aid effort, he said.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, whose government has come under fire for its handling of the country’s worst ever humanitarian crisis, said Wednesday the flooding had caused economic losses of $43 billion.
He said Pakistan faced inflation of up to 20 percent and slower economic growth, warning of job losses and social unrest. The World Bank on Thursday raised flood aid to Pakistan to one billion dollars while the IMF approved 450 million dollars in emergency financing to help the nation cope.
After World Bank chief Robert Zoellick met Pakistan’s Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh Shaikh in Washington, the bank pledged to help Pakistan set up systems for tracking aid flows and monitoring the process to tackle waste and corruption.
Flood waters moving south through Sindh province are now 28 kilometers from the Arabian Sea, officials said, and will likely take another week to flow away. But the waters have already reached the town of Jati and are threatening nearby Choohar Jamoli town – the last two sizeable human populations under threat on the east bank of the swollen Indus.
Sindh is the worst-hit province, with 19 of its 23 districts ravaged as floodwaters have swollen the Indus to 40 times its usual volume. One million people have been displaced over the past few days alone, while the government’s official death toll from the floods has reached 1,760.
Initial relief efforts are still underway in the country’s militant-troubled northwest, nearly two weeks after torrential rains stopped in the region. Khalid bin Waleed, a resident of Charsadda, said most of the 350 homes in the village had been destroyed and no government help was forthcoming. “Now people are living on the rubble of their houses and those better off are camping on their roofs,” Waleed said, adding that his village had so far had no help from the government.