Pakistan Aid in Short Supply as Desperation Grows

by
August 18, 2010

By WAQAR GILLANI, The New York Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — With disastrous flooding threatening to spread, the United Nations acknowledged Wednesday that the shortage of the most basic supplies — shelter, food and drinking water — presented the biggest challenge for aid workers in Pakistan.

The assessment came after reports of looting and protests over food on Tuesday, deepening the sense of desperation across Punjab Province, the country’s most populous region and its agricultural hub.

In the absence of help from outsiders or the government, flood survivors told stories of taking the search for aid upon themselves, swimming to dry areas to find food for people still marooned and waiting for rescue.

As many as 8.5 million people in Punjab have been affected, and property damage is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the province’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, told reporters. Punjab’s provincial cabinet met Tuesday and ordered development funds to be used for emergency aid.

Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations relief effort in Pakistan, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the biggest problem for the relief effort in much of Pakistan was not access to stricken areas but shortages of relief supplies.

For example, he said, the United Nations estimates that around two million people need tents to live in, but aid agencies have received only some 935,000. Earlier this week, Mr. Giuliano said the lack of clean water could contribute to outbreaks of potentially fatal disease, particularly among children.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said that, of some 15 million people affected by the floods, only about 1.2 million had access to safe water supplies while, in the areas most affected by the flooding, 200 of 1,167 health facilities — including several hospitals — had been damaged.

It also said that, from the beginning of the floods three weeks ago through Aug. 12, medical centers had reported outbreaks of 143,000 instances of skin infections, 115,000 cases of acute diarrhea and 114,000 cases of respiratory tract infections.

In northwestern Pakistan, meanwhile, attacks by militants on police posts offered a reminder on Wednesday that the floods and their aftermath were only one of several challenges facing the country’s embattled government. The Associated Press said two civilians active in an anti-Taliban militia had been killed in the attacks late on Tuesday.

The floods have caused lasting damage to roads and other infrastructure, livestock and agriculture. On Tuesday, the World Bank pledged to reroute $900 million from other projects in Pakistan to help in recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Across southern Punjab, scenes repeatedly played out of people seeking food and aid on their own as they remained isolated by floodwaters that reached as high as five feet.

“Water is still on the rise, and we are in a helpless situation,” said Muhammad Usman, a district administrator.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/world/asia/19pstan.html?_r=1

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