Flood Emergency in Pakistan Not Over
Lisa Schlein | Geneva 04 September 2010
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging the international community not to turn its attention away from the crisis in flood-stricken Pakistan. The UNHCR says the emergency is far from over and the survivors of these catastrophic floods will be in need of aid for a long time.
The UN refugee agency says the floodwaters in some parts of Pakistan are receding and more people are returning home. Despite this, the agency says the overall humanitarian situation throughout the country remains serious.
Aid workers report conditions are worsening in the thousands of spontaneous settlements and camps that have sprung up over the last few weeks.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says the growing crisis in Balochistan province is of particular concern. He says this area has received little attention compared to those closer to the Indus River.
He says floods still affect almost two million people there, including 600,000 who fled from neighboring Sindh.
"We are seeing a persistent threat of water borne diseases, shortages of shelter, and very limited quantities of food for children," said Edwards. "In southern Sindh, where floodwaters hit Thatta and surrounding districts last week, thousands of families are now living on streets without water and sanitation. According to the authorities about 20 percent of people displaced by floods in this area are returning to villages to salvage and protect what property they still have there."
The UNHCR warns people returning home by boat will remain cut off until the waters recede further. On the other hand, it notes the tens of thousands of people unable to return are expected to remain displaced for several months.
In either case, UNHCR spokesman Edwards says there is an urgent need to improve conditions for the displaced and support people returning home.
"We are deploying additional staff to identify needs of the most vulnerable groups," added Edwards. "Given the scale of the crisis and aid shortages we want to see better targeting of aid and more orderly mechanisms of distribution. If you can understand the situation of all people, women are not best placed to run after trucks handing out aid. We want to see improvements there."
As elsewhere in Pakistan, the UNHCR says it is stepping up its activities in Sindh. It says it has opened new offices to manage operations in the south and north of the province.
The agency says it has deployed a number of experts to advise local Pakistani officials on the management and coordination of camps. It says it is continuing the distribution of shelter supplies.
Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority estimates 1.25 million houses have been destroyed or damaged by the floods. Aid agencies report more than five million people still are in desperate need of shelter.
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