Pakistani Floods

“The magnitude of the problem; the world has never seen such a disaster. It’s much beyond anybody’s imagination…

This is a long-term affair; this is a two-year campaign. We have to consider that and keep that in mind.

For two years we’ve got to give them crops, fertilisers; we’ve got to give them seed; we’ve got to look after them, feed them, for two years, to bring them back to where they were. And they will still not be where they were.”

These were the words of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon when he visited the flood effected regions of Pakistan.

The flood related content was produced for a select few international advocacy and relief organizations.  It made its way to million of viewers around the world in a matter of days.

The world is only now waking up to the alarm that the humanitarian community has been sounding for more than three weeks about the scale of the emergency here in Pakistan.

It’s difficult and rather pointless for those of us in-country to spend too much time wondering why the response, especially in terms of funding, has been so slow to kick in. There is just too much work to do on the ground here, and we have no time for hand-wringing.

One reason cited for the lack of funding is that the death toll still only stands at a relatively modest 1,500 or so, but those of us on the ground know that this number could drastically increase, with the specters of both disease and food shortages hanging over the country. If we take the right sort of action now, wedo have the chance to change this gloomy picture.

I can only offer my perspective as a first-hand witness. The deficient and delayed response is starting to exact its cost on the Pakistani people, especially the most vulnerable.

In aid world jargon we speak of it as the ‘second-wave’ of death, which sounds too abstract to register with most audiences.  But its meaning is very plain. The lives of hundreds of thousands are at immediate risk. We have anecdotal evidence that children are already dying.  If we don’t act quickly, many, many more will die.

Dirty, polluted water kills.  Try to imagine waking-up in the morning without clean water for you and your family to drink.  Yes, there is water everywhere around you, but because of the pollution it is effectively poisonous. This is the daily dilemma for so many mothers in Pakistan right now.

If the response does not escalate quickly, an already horrible situation will get much worse. The World Health Organization predicts that up to 1.5 million cases of diarrheal diseases—including as many as 140,000 cases of cholera—150 cases of measles, 350,000 cases of acute respiratory infections, and up to 100,000 cases of malaria could occur over the next three months. These conditions can be treated easily but they will go unattended and cause this “second wave of death,” if the international community does not provide more funding, and fast.

What’s more, the current $460M sought by the UN is just what is needed for the initial relief period and was based on lower estimates of the actual number of people needing assistance—and only slightly more than 50 percent of that amount has even been funded. In the medium-term, when these initial funds have long been spent, a food security crisis is highly likely to develop due to lack of land rehabilitation , basic seeds and tools to get people back to some level of self-sufficiency.

In Punjab, which is (or was!) the breadbasket of Pakistan, prime arable land has been scourged.  If a massive effort could be made to rehabilitate those sections of land from which floodwater recedes quickly, then at least some crops could be planted by October, which may mitigate this crisis.  It must be done, and for that we need more funding to start that work in a timely manner.

Governments around the world can and must do more. They must make good on the pledges they make. In this era of billions of dollars going to stimulus packages and bank bail-outs, surely the people of Pakistan—caught in a tragedy the scope of which “the world has never seen,” as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said when he visited the country—deserve a better deal.

Dorothy Blane, Country Director, Pakistan, Concern Worldwide

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