Floods Hamper Aid Efforts As Disease Threatens Millions

Pakistanis faced new dangers posed by disease as emergency response teams and international aid agencies struggled to rush supplies to millions of people forced to flee the country’s worst flooding in 80 years. Jack Byrne, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative to Pakistan, said the aid effort has been hampered because bridges and roads have been washed away by monsoon rains and the ensuing floods since late July.

The floods that started in the northern part of the country have generally followed the Indus River, moving southward to Sindh and Punjab provinces. In parts of northern provinces where floodwaters have receded, people are returning and “are having a hard time identifying where they lived,” Byrne said. “People are still on the move in and around Sindh,” Byrne reported from his office in Islamabad, the capital, on Aug. 17. “Thousands are just living on the road.”

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Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the floods have made their way to the major cities of Karachi and Lahore, taxing efforts to provide adequate food and shelter. At a news conference in Islamabad on Aug. 17, Daniel Toole, Unicef’s regional director for South Asia, said up to 3.5 million children are in danger of contracting diarrhea, cholera and upper respiratory infections through contaminated water and insects.

The floods have affected up to 20 million people and a fifth of the area of this country of 170 million. An estimated 1,500 people have died. The United Nations reported that food rations and clean water have reached only 500,000 of the estimated two million people left homeless by the floods. The organization launched an appeal for $459.7 million in emergency relief funds. Agency officials expected that rebuilding and recovery will require billions more. The World Bank offered on Aug. 17 to redirect $900 million in loans for development projects in Pakistan to assist with aid efforts. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, has collected $6.2 million in emergency funds since the flooding began. Even so, Byrne said relief agencies are concerned that donor fatigue is setting in.

“The donor response has been slow,” he said. “It’s what the U.N. calls perception deficit, people thinking the money is not going where it’s needed because they think the government is corrupt. Pakistan is saddened that the world has been slow to respond.”

Byrne said the funds collected by C.R.S. have been used to provide emergency kits to about 3,000 households and a total of about 30,000 people. The kits contain cooking sets, water purification tablets, bottled water, blankets and soap.

The agency also has started providing transitional shelter to people in the north. The simple wooden structures will provide adequate housing for the short term as people begin to re-establish their routines, he explained.

Once people are settled into new housing, cash-for-work programs will hire people to rebuild roads, clear drainage channels and build small bridges.

The floods have devastated Pakistan’s already fragile economy, wiping out farmland and sweeping away people, livestock and property. Byrne said there is growing concern that the planting season may be delayed. “If most of the farmers miss the planting season, which is in September, it will affect the crops next year,” he said. “They plant corn, wheat, cotton for clothing, and there’s a lot of subsistence farming.”

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