Monday, August 23, 2010

Pakistan floods: Senior UN figure criticises response

Pakistan's humanitarian crisis is the largest "in decades"

A senior United Nations official has called on the global community to urgently step up its response to the floods that have struck Pakistan.

Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for Unicef in New York, described the lack of support as "quite extraordinary".

The humanitarian crisis was the largest "in decades", he warned.

Mr Arsenault spoke as the International Monetary Fund was due to start talks with Pakistani officials in Washington.

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The talks on Monday will allow the IMF to assess how best to help. It says the floods that have struck Pakistan pose a "massive economic challenge" and it will review the country's budget and financial prospects.

The UN says it has raised close to 70% of the $460m (£295m) it called for in its emergency appeal. Some $54m are in uncommitted pledges, and $263m are resources available now.

In the UK, relief agencies have said public donors have given £29m ($45m) to the relief effort.

They also said the international response had been slow to build up, but that they had received more donations in the second week than the first week, which was rarely seen in appeals.

Oxfam's humanitarian director Jane Cocking said: "This is not just an appeal for one disaster. It's an appeal for many.

"What we have is a single, long event which has the scale of the tsunami, the devastation of Haiti and the complexity of the Middle East," said Oxfam's humanitarian director, Jane Cocking.

Tens of thousands of people have fled a threatened flood surge, three weeks after heavy monsoon rains first hit the country, with the south now bearing the brunt.

Millions displaced

As officials prepared for the IMF meetings, Mr Arsenault, of the UN children's fund, said: "One of the major challenges that we have which is quite extraordinary is the lack of level of support from the international community.

"Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we've been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we've seen in decades."

Sindh is now being described as the worst-hit province
Overall, about 1,600 people have been killed and some 16.8 million affected, according to figures from the UN and Pakistani government.

In the south, the water has levelled out on the embankments around Shahdadkot, and is no longer a threat to the city, but nearly 80% of the population has already fled fearing the deluge, says the BBC's Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad.

The threat appears to have receded from the city of Hyderabad, where the flood control barriers have held against what local officials said was a "super flood".

Evacuation activities, meanwhile, have started in Thatta district next to the Arabian Sea.

Dozens more villages have been inundated, and although authorities expect flood waters to drain into the Arabian Sea over the next few days, evacuees who return may find their homes and livelihoods have been washed away.

An estimated four million people have now been displaced in the city of Sukkur alone.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to fly on Monday to the Gilgit Baltistan region in north-eastern Pakistan, where thousands of people are still trapped in areas cut off from each other.

The region as a whole remains cut off due to the closure of the Karakoram highway, its only road link to the outside world.

'Unprecedented flood'

Sindh, in the south of Pakistan, is now being described as the country's worst-hit province, with officials saying at least 200,000 residents have fled in the last 24 hours.

The Pakistan government has said that the cost of rebuilding after the floods could be as high as $15bn (£10bn).

The UN said on Friday that more helicopters were urgently needed to reach communities cut off by the water.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says diseases are spreading in affected areas.
Experts warn of a second wave of deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera unless flood victims have access to supplies of fresh drinking water.

The floods began last month in Pakistan's north-west after heavy monsoon rains and have since swept south.

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