UN agencies on Friday stepped up calls for donors to deliver on their pledges for Pakistan to prevent what UN chief Ban Ki-moon called a “slow-motion tsunami” from wreaking further catastrophe.
Torrential monsoon rains unleashed the worst floods for 80 years, affecting 20-million people and an area the size of England in Pakistan’s worst natural disaster that has already created economic, political and humanitarian chaos.
The floods have left nearly 1 500 people dead in the nuclear-armed country of 167-million — a top US foreign policy priority on the frontline of the US-led war on al-Qaeda and locked in battles with homegrown Taliban.
Its weak, democratically elected government has faced an outpouring of public fury over sluggish relief efforts and there are growing fears that losses of up to $43-billion could bring economic oblivion.
The United Nations now says that 55% of its $460-million appeal for emergency funds for the next three months has been received.
On Friday UN chief Ban said member states have pledged more than $200-million in response to a fresh appeal for emergency aid.
“The generosity of countries and individuals will make a real difference in the daily lives of millions of people,” Ban added. “We must keep it up. Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need.”
Eight million flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that UN agencies were ramping up their aid effort but that the full picture was only beginning to emerge.
“It’s a disaster that came very slowly, it’s not an earthquake that hits suddenly that we can immediately see the victims. But we are now seeing the magnitude of this catastrophe.”
The UN World Food Programme said it urgently needs helicopters to get food to millions of flood victims who remain cut off by the high waters, although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off.
The agency warned that the floods have killed or are threatening millions of livestock, and launched an urgent appeal for animal feed.
The UNHCR refugee agency separately expressed fears that property speculators would swoop in on Afghan refugee settlements wrecked by the floods.
The World Health Organisation representative in Pakistan, Guido Sabatinelli, said there was a 30% increase in diarrhoea cases compared with the typical rate and appealed for donors to follow through on pledges.
“The situation is very serious and is growing. The worse has to come. We are receiving some good pledges. We cannot buy drugs with the pledges. We need to convert this into cheques,” he told reporters.
Salvano Briceno, director of the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction said structural problems had worsened the effect of the devastating rains.
“If people had not settled on the river banks, definitely the disaster would have been less, because that is the main cause of the disaster,” he said, adding that what happened to people in the aftermath of the flood was also key for avoiding future catastrophe.
“What is worrying is the long term effect, the displacement. By moving they might go to other risk areas,” such as fragile slopes or quake zones, Briceno said.
Ban Ki-moon told a UN emergency fundraising session in New York on Thursday that the world had a duty to act, with millions of people still without shelter and a fifth of the country submerged by flood waters.
“It is one of the greatest tests of global solidarity,” Ban told the General Assembly meeting, saying that Pakistan was facing a “slow-motion tsunami.”
Pakistan and the United States have voiced growing fears that extremists may harness the discontent to further destabilise Pakistan’s embattled government, or that unhappiness with relief efforts could fan social unrest.
The United States raised its aid to $150-million, while Britain said it planned to double its contribution to more than $99-million.
Many people fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs and have been forced to drink contaminated water, causing diarrhoea and heightening fears over outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases.
Pakistani officials said 20 people have died as a result of diseases brought on by the floods — eight in the southern province of Sindh and 12 in Punjab.
“An average two to three deaths from stomach ailments are being reported daily,” said doctor Saydan Naqvi, district health officer in Multan, which serves as the hub of the relief effort for the afflicted parts of Punjab. – AFP