By Saleem Shaikh
Tackling rampant hunger, malnutrition among children and an acute shortage of health facilities in flooded areas are key challenges for Pakistan’s cash-strapped government as severe flooding – believed linked to climate change - continues in Sindh province for a second year.
Inadequate availability of tents, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities have deepened the miseries of over 8.9 million people displaced by floods that have ravaged southern Sindh province, and standing floodwaters are providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes, threatening a mushrooming of mosquito-borne diseases.
This year’s extreme monsoon rains, which began the last week of July, continued until mid-September and resulted in an inundation of mammoth magnitude, spelled widespread disaster in all 23 districts in Sindh province. The province now direly needs an adequate emergency response plan to help people resume their normal socio-economic lives.
Some 443 people, 113 of them children, have been killed and over 8.9 million displaced due to the flooding. Over 85 percent of the displaced are still without shelter and food and tens of thousands of others are without clean potable water.
Losses from the torrential rains, which caused riverbanks to burst and overflow in late August, have been estimated at over $5.5 billion.
LACK OF FUNDS
The government has clearly sounded its inability to cope with the challenge and redress the difficulties of the displaced until its call for aid is met.
The United Nations has so far received just 9 percent ($22 million) of the $367 million in aid it asked for from international donors last month to launch relief activities in flood-affected southern Pakistan.
The poor response by international donors to has proved a big hurdle to restoring lives in disaster-hit areas.
It has been a particular blow to Pakistani aid workers, who are struggling to reach out to people who have yet to received aid.
The gains made and the lives saved through initial flood-relief activities in Pakistan also are in jeopardy as critical emergency-response supplies run low, the international aid agency Oxfam warned. It has urged the donor community to urgently fund the response to the floods.
UN humanitarian agencies say they are extremely low on relief supplies and will run out of resources in a few weeks unless donors quickly step up their response to the disaster. They say at least six months worth of help is needed to support flood-hit people in Sindh.
So far, relief activities have barely scratched the surface of the region’s need since September 15, when the UN sounded its call for an immediate response to the situation.
According to the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority, over 60 percent of the affected people need safe drinking water and 85 percent need sanitation facilities. Some 2.75 million people need food while 3 million people urgently need medical care and 1.75 million require emergency shelter.
The number of deaths is rising with each passing day. Hundreds of thousands of people are still trapped in floodwaters desperately awaiting rescue. Those who have managed to escape literally have to fight to get hold of the relief supplies being distributed.
The amount of aid available is simply inadequate. The government, international humanitarian and donor communities must gear up their response.
Women and children are particularly the hardest hit. According to the United National Population Fund, at least a million women in the flood-affected areas are pregnant and each day nearly 400 women go into labour.
“Their immunity against diseases has eroded drastically and women who are already anemic are now more susceptible to the disease and to pregnancy complications,” it said in its recent survey report.
Those who have seen the flooding predict it will take months for the floodwaters to recede. Flooded fields will not be ready for the next harvest if the waters do not diminish in less than three months. This will put the upcoming crop and the future of thousands of farmers in doubt.
Therefore, everyone - the donors and the humanitarian community - must understand that the Pakistani people need more than just short-term relief. They have lost everything: their crops, property and their source of income.
Their lives have been destroyed and they need immediate help to rebuild. For this they will need long-term support to help them jump-start their lives.
Saleem Shaikh is a development reporter based in Karachi, Pakistan.