UN calls for $460m in aid for Pakistan

Evacuations have kept death toll at 1,600, but spreading floods could increase casualties.

ISLAMABAD //The United Nations said yesterday it will need US$460 million (Dh1.68 billion) to meet the urgent, short-term needs of millions of Pakistanis affected by massive floods. "We have a huge task in front of us to deliver that is required as soon as possible," John Holmes, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, said at a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority estimates that number of flood victims has spiralled to more than 14 million as floodwaters have travelled southwards into central Punjab and southern Sindh provinces, flooding huge areas of farmland. Mass evacuations have helped keep the death toll at about 1,600, according to the UN, but the spreading floods prompted Mr Holmes to warn that urgent action was needed to avoid more casualties.

"If we don't act fast, many more people could die of diseases and food shortages," Mr Holmes said. The UN has so far received aid for Pakistan worth $47.8 million from member countries, while an additional $99.5 million has been pledged toward the flood response. Maurizio Giuliano, an Islamabad-based spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said four UN agencies had been assigned to work with the Pakistani authorities and non-government organisations in "clusters", or areas of relief work.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which already had a strong presence in the areas of northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, hit first and worst by the floods, had by Tuesday delivered a month's worth of food to 370,000 people. The agency said yesterday it was finalising preparations to distribute food to 825,000 more people in the central Punjab and southern Sindh provinces "in the coming days".

The WFP is targeting about four million Pakistanis for food assistance, with about two million people expected to be dependent for up to three months. The agency said it had enough food in Pakistan to provide a one-month ration to the six million people deemed to be in need of assistance, and hopes to reach two million of them by August 20. The WFP is appealing for $163 million in donations, including $150.5 million for food.

UN sources said because of massive problems with accessibility to flood-affected areas, the WFP had decided to set aside its standing policy of delivering relief goods by military means, and has since Monday been working with Pakistani army helicopter crews to ensure delivery of food supplies to stranded populations. The scale of the task has also prompted the WFP to increase the number of partner Pakistani NGOs to 16, from the five it had already been working with to provide food assistance to 2.7 million Pakistanis displaced by army operations against Taliban militants in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, leads the "WASH" - water, sanitation and hygiene - cluster and has so far restored clean drinking-water supplies to more than a million people, through the repair of about 100 tube wells and water-tanker deliveries. A further 100,000 people have received hygiene kits and jerry cans. The organization's initial focus has been to avert the spread of waterborne diseases, including acute watery diarrhoea - a condition sometimes confused with cholera - that has already struck a reported 33,000 Pakistanis. Scabies and respiratory tract infections are also widespread.

The agency, which has appealed for $47.3 million to fund its flood-relief operations in Pakistan, plans to deliver 4.2 million sachets of oral rehydration salts and 2.1 million doses of zinc to children in affected areas this week to prevent dehydration and an outbreak of measles. Initial quantities of rehydration salts, as well as high-energy biscuits, were drawn from UN stocks in neighbouring Afghanistan, the agency said yesterday.

Unicef, the World Health Organisation and its health-cluster partners are gearing up to conduct a rapid assessment of flooded areas in the middle of next week. The UN said $56.2m will be required for emergency healthcare, while an additional $14.2m is needed to ensure proper nutrition for children under the age of five, and for pregnant and lactating women. However, UN officials emphasised that yesterday's appeal for international aid would only be the first step in Pakistan's recovery from the floods, and that it would revise its estimated funding requirements in 30 days.

@Email:thussain@thenational.ae

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