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Archive for August 18th, 2010

Photo by Ali Khurshid

If you follow the international news (or at least read this blog somewhat regularly), then you are well aware of the increasingly dire situation in Pakistan. Over 20 million Pakistanis have been affected by weeks of flooding, as the rains continue to displace families from their homes, fan dangers of cholera outbreaks, and destroy livelihoods. Pakistan’s senior meteorologist Arif Mahmood told reporters that floodwaters “won’t fully recede until the end of the month, and existing river torrents were still heading to major cities such as Hyderabad and Sukkur in the south.”

Mahmood’s prediction essentially means that the floods will continue for two more weeks, making it difficult to quell the damage of this disaster and for relief agencies to provide adequate responses on the ground. As we all encourage others to dig into their pockets and help the millions in need (Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched last week, has so far raised over $30,000), we also need to remain cognizant of the realities that can hinder this relief. Here are some:

  1. The continuation of the rain, even if it’s less heavy this week, makes it difficult for relief teams to reach the people in need. Last Friday, I attended a USAID discussion on the situation in Pakistan, where the speaker noted that there are now 15 American military helicopters in Pakistan. The State Department website notes, “U.S. helicopters have evacuated 5,912 people and delivered 717,713 pounds of relief supplies.” However, noted the USAID official last week, helicopters can’t exactly fly when it’s raining. So relief teams have to rely on four-wheel drives, trucks and even donkeys, often delaying delivery time.
  2. The floods have devastated infrastructure, further complicating the delivery of aid. Countless numbers of bridges and roads have been destroyed, washed away, or blocked by landslides. If bridges aren’t repaired more quickly, than aid and food will fail to reach the hundreds of families cut off from relief. (Again, if it wasn’t raining, helicopters could be instrumental in food drops, but their efforts are hampered by the continuing rains).
  3. Because the floods are not over, we still don’t know the full extent of the devastation. Remember when news agencies said over 14 million had been affected by the floods, “more than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined”? Yeah. That was last week. This week, the number is over 20 million. And as the rains continue, more land will be submerged by water, more families will become displaced, and the overall impact will be larger.
  4. Pledged aid does not translate to aid delivered. The United Nations today announced that international aid is arriving too slowly, while some organizations are running out of resources. According to Al Jazeera, “The World Food Programme has warned that it needs more money to support Pakistan’s food supplies, which are “under significant pressure.'” So two issues here – first, not enough aid. Second, the aid that has been pledged by governments can take weeks of lead time to trickle into the system. Daniel Toole, the South Asia regional director for Unicef, told Al Jazeera, “We cannot spend pledges. We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges.” Ted Itani, from the International Red Cross & Red Crescent, echoed, “I can only spend cash that is in my budget. Although donors have pledged millions of dollars it has to filter down into my account so I can order things before the onset of winter.”
  5. Again, pledges. They aren’t tangible. According to the BBC News’ Mark Doyle, the United Nations launched a “Flash Appeal” for $459 million to cover the first 90 days of the disaster. Nearly half of this appeal has been raised – $208 million – with a further $42 million pledged but not yet earmarked for specific projects. But, noted Doyle, “Rich “donor” countries often double count their contributions to make themselves look more generous to voters at home, or to curry political favor with particular parts of the world.”
  6. Relief agencies and the Pakistani government aren’t operating in all the affected areas. Much of the current emergency first response relief seems to be concentrated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (particularly Swat Valley) and Sindh provinces. However, very little aid has been delivered to Balochistan, which has also been impacted by the floods, mainly because international agencies can’t operate in those areas. According to ARY Television (via @mirza9), a Balochi official today said only the army are operating in the province. The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), provincial government and the federal government are completely missing on ground.
  7. Emergency first response relief aside, the public health and economic ramifications will be much more severe in the long-term. Dirty flood water and rain = lack of clean water. Lack of clean water = high risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, etc. Relief agencies on the ground, like Mercy Corps (the recipient of the Relief4Pakistan donations), are working to provide clean water, water filtration units, and hygiene kits to not only address the immediate need, but also to prevent future outbreaks of diseases. Mercy Corps, working in Swat and Sukkur (Sindh) is attempting to serve 10,000 people a day with a 20-person team on the ground. Moreover, noted TIME, “Last week, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the floods had destroyed crops worth around $1 billion. By conservative Pakistani estimates, the figure is at least double that.”
  8. Finally, the millions affected by the floods aren’t just suffering, they’re pissed off. And justifiably so. News agencies today noted affectees’ anger at the government, which they say has not provided enough aid to the people who deserve it most. This was not helped by President Zardari‘s Europe visit or the fact that PM Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly visited a fake relief camp on Wednesday, one that was allegedly erected “hours” before his arrival. Residents of the camp, which was also “wound up” after his departure, told Dawn that they had been “living out in the open, with no shelter.” Zardari recently acknowledged that the government response has so far been inadequate, noting, “Yes, the situation could have been better. Yes, the arrangements could have been made better. Yes, everything could have been better.

For those who want to continue to do more and fill in these gaps, you should continue to donate to vetted agencies working on the ground. I’ve provided a list here, and have plugged my own campaign, Relief4Pakistan in my last post. Donations can go a long way, further than pledges that can get caught in bureaucratic red tape. More importantly, you can raise awareness about the situation, particularly if you live overseas. If you live in Pakistan, you can and should take part in the PakRelief Crowdmap, which creates a dynamic map of the flood emergency and directs relief agencies to those area. This effort is vital in an environment where efforts are often duplicated, or for certain areas don’t receive enough attention. To submit your own observations to the Crowdmap, text about the disaster to 3441, beginning the message with “FL” for flood relief. See here for the website, and here for the Facebook page.

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