‘Heart-Wrenching’ Pakistan Floods Need More Aid From International Community, U.N. Secretary-General Says

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that the flooding in Pakistan is the worst natural disaster he has seen and called on the international community to expedite the aid effort, the Los Angeles Times reports. Ban traveled to flooded areas of the country and surveyed damage on Sunday (Rodriguez, 8/16).

“This has been a heart-wrenching day for me,” Ban said “after flying over the hard-hit areas with President Asif Ali Zardari,” the Associated Press reports. “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he said (Brummitt, 8/15). “These unprecedented floods demand unprecedented assistance. The flood waves must be matched with waves of global support,” Ban said, VOA News reports.

Last week, the U.N. appealed for almost $460 million for flood relief over the next 90 days. So far, only 20 percent of those funds have been received, according to U.N. officials (Gul, 8/15). Ban said “he will allocate a further $10 million” in emergency funding, “bringing the total [U.N.] disbursement since the beginning of the crisis to $27 million,” the U.N. News Centre writes (8/15).

“The U.S. has led the international [aid] effort … Washington has sent 19 military helicopters that have rescued 3,500 flood victims and transported more than 412,000 pounds of relief supplies. The U.S. has also delivered to the Pakistani government inflatable rescue boats as well as 12 prefabricated temporary steel bridges to restore access to stricken areas, particularly in northwestern Pakistan’s Swat Valley,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Also Sunday, Pakistani President Zardari “defended the government’s efforts,” responding to criticism that the government’s response to the floods has been “sluggish,” the newspaper writes. “The magnitude of the disaster is beyond anyone’s imagination,” Zardari said. “This is a long-term affair, a two-year campaign. For two years we’ve got to give them crops, fertilizer, seed. We must look after them and feed them for two years, to bring them back to where they were” (8/16).

Cholera Concerns; Estimated 20M Homeless

Ahead of Zardari and Ban’s Sunday news conference, “U.N. officials confirmed the first cholera case among [flood] survivors,” the Washington Post reports. “As people go without access to clean drinking water and basic health services, deadly cholera outbreaks can spread quickly. Other cases are suspected among the tens of thousands of people suffering from diarrhea and fever,” the newspaper notes (Witte, 8/15). However, Sajid Shaheen, a local director-general of health, “contradicted the report about confirmation of a cholera case in Mingora, saying that health teams deputed in the affected areas had been reporting complaints of watery diarrhoea, but there was no report of cholera as yet,” DAWN.COM reports. “The situation is extremely precarious in Swat, but our teams have established a surveillance system to check epidemics … the situation is under control,” he said (Yusufzai, 8/15).

Over the weekend, Mark Ward, acting director of USAID’s office for foreign disaster assistance, said he was hopeful that a severe cholera outbreak could be prevented, Reuters reports. “The good news is that we know where it is and we can get resources in there to help because of the disease early warning system,” according to Ward, who was referring to a WHO system established to detect cholera or other waterborne illnesses that might emerge after a flood. “When you are dealing with this much water and that many people, [cholera] is almost unavoidable,” he said, adding, “I think we can control this” (Pleming, 8/14). NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday reports from the ground, noting that “keeping epidemics in check is now a huge challenge” (McCarthy, 8/15).

The situation is especially worrying for the country’s children, 3.5 million of whom are at “high risk of deadly water-borne diseases, such as watery diarrhoea and dysentery,” Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said, the BBC reports. “What concerns us the most is water and health. Clean water is essential to prevent deadly water-borne diseases. Water during the flood has been contaminated badly. There is a shortage of clean water,” Giuliano said (8/16). In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “There was a first wave of deaths caused by the floods themselves … But if we don’t act soon enough there will be a second wave of deaths caused by a combination of lack of clean water, food shortages and water-borne and vector-borne diseases.” Up to six million people are at risk of contracting diseases related to the floods, such as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis, he said. “We may be close to seeing this second wave of death,” he said. “The picture is a gruesome one” (Masood/Gillani, 8/16).

Meanwhile over the weekend, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said 20 million people or almost 12 percent of the population had been displaced because of the flooding, “[r]evising an earlier official estimate that 14 million people had been affected by the floods,” the Washington Post reports (8/15).

“Unfortunately, the recent unprecedented torrential rains and devastating floods have made more than 20m people homeless, destroyed standing crops and food … worth billions of dollars, washed away bridges, roads, communication and energy networks,” Gilani said, the BBC reports. It is not clear how many of the 20 million have lost their home completely and how many might be able to return, according to the article (8/14).

The slow pace of aid is causing unrest among some Pakistanis. “Angry flood survivors in Pakistan blocked a highway to protest slow delivery of aid and heavy rain lashed makeshift housing Monday as a forecast of more flooding increased the urgency of the massive international relief effort,” the AP reports (Khan, 8/16). “Dozens of stick-wielding men and a few women tried to block five lanes of traffic outside Sukkur, a major town in the southern province of Sindh. Villagers set fire to straw and threatened to hit approaching cars with sticks,” Reuters reports. Protestor Gul Hasan said, “We left our homes with nothing and now we’re here with no clothes, no food and our children are living beside the road” (Birsel, 8/16).

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