UN chief to travel to Pakistan amid 'worst flooding in country's history'

Antonio Guterres will visit areas most affected by 'a monsoon on steroids'

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will travel to Pakistan next week as the country reels from floods that have killed more than 1,100 people.

Mr Guterres is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad on September 9 and return to New York two days later.

He will visit the areas most affected by this “unprecedented climate catastrophe”, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

The UN launched a formal $160 million appeal on Tuesday to fund emergency aid after flash floods caused by historic monsoon rains washed away roads, crops and bridges.

The flooding has affected more than 33 million people in the country of 220 million.

“Pakistan is awash in suffering. The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” Mr Guterres said in a video statement, calling it a “colossal crisis”.

Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif called the flooding “the worst in the history of Pakistan”.

He said it would cost at least $10 billion to repair damaged infrastructure across the country.

Aid efforts begin

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari accompanied diplomats from 20 countries on a flight over the flooded regions.

He said the international response had been encouraging: among the assistance received, four Chinese planes had delivered a total of 3,000 tents and other relief goods, the foreign office said.

The US said on Tuesday that it was sending $30m in humanitarian assistance as aid efforts were stepped up around the world.

The UAE has provided supplies, shelter material, food and medicine under the orders of President Sheikh Mohamed, state news agency Wam reported.

“The armed forces have dedicated military aircraft to transport humanitarian aid on account of the competitive edge they have gained in carrying relief material regionally and internationally,” a statement carried by Wam said.

But authorities and charities are struggling to deliver aid to some areas after roads and bridges were damaged by the floods. Aid agencies have asked for a relaxation of restrictions on imports of food from Pakistan's old rival and neighbour India, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said.

Mr Sharif promised donors that any funding would be spent responsibly.

“I want to give my solemn pledge and solemn commitment … every penny will be spent in a very transparent fashion. Every penny will reach the needy,” he said.

Pakistan was already desperate for international support and the floods have compounded the challenge.

Prices of basic goods — particularly onions, tomatoes and chickpeas — have increased, with vendors complaining about a lack of supply from the flooded breadbasket provinces of Sindh and Punjab.

'For God's sake, help us out'

There was some relief on Monday when the International Monetary Fund approved the revival of a loan programme for Pakistan, releasing $1.1bn.

Makeshift relief camps have sprung up all over Pakistan, in schools, on motorways and at military bases.

Displaced people have been wandering what dry land remains, seeking shelter, food and drinking water.

“For God's sake, help us out,” Qadir, 35, told AFP. He was camped out with his extended family on a road near the southern city of Sukkur.

“We walked along the road for three days to reach here. There is nothing left back at home; we only managed to save our lives.”

In the country's south and west, many Pakistanis have crammed on to elevated motorways and railway tracks to escape the flooded plains.

Passengers wait by a damaged road next to floodwaters in the Pakistani town of Bahrain. AP

Rimsha Bibi, a schoolgirl in Dera Ghazi Khan in central Pakistan, told AFP that her family did not “even have space to cook food”.

“We need help,” she said.

Pakistan receives heavy, often destructive rains during its annual monsoon season, which are crucial for agriculture and water supplies.

But such intense downpours have not occurred in three decades.

Pakistani officials have blamed climate change, which is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather around the world.

Tributaries of the Indus River, which runs the length of the South Asian nation, have sent torrents of water rushing downstream.

Pakistan, as a whole, has received twice the usual monsoon rainfall, the meteorological office said, but the Balochistan and Sindh provinces have received more than four times the average of the past three decades.

As water recedes, disease threat increases

Azra Fazal Pechuho, health minister in the country’s worst-affected province of Sindh, said officials have set up 4,210 medical camps in flood-hit areas to treat victims now suffering from skin and waterborne diseases, which are common during floods.

Authorities said waterborne diseases among flood victims are now common across the country.

“Initially we received injured people, but now diarrhoea is common,” said Farhad Khan, a physician in charge of a medical camp set up in the north-western town of Charsadda. It is one of the worst-hit districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, where floods have killed 257 people since mid-June.

The World Health Organisation said in a statement that it was working to increase surveillance for acute diarrhoea, cholera and other communicable diseases to avoid their spreading further, and is also providing medicine and medical supplies to health facilities.

“Pakistan was already facing health threats including Covid-19, cholera, typhoid, measles, leishmaniasis, HIV and polio,” WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

“Now, the flooding has led to new outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections, malaria, dengue and more.”

Updated: August 31, 2022, 3:09 PM