IN THE MIDST OF CATASTROPHIC FLOODS
Aug 23 - 29, 2010
While Pakistan is reeling under worst humanitarian crisis of its 63-year history due to the devastating floods, yet the international relief agencies are having trouble obtaining funds to help millions of flood victims as there is a trust deficit. Though the United Nations has been struggling to obtain $460 million to provide emergency aid to six million victims of the country ravaged by heavy flooding, yet only a fifth of the required funds have been pledged since the appeal was launched on August 11. The billions of dollars would be needed in the long term to reconstruct the villages, infrastructure and harvests devastated by the floods, according to the UN.
"We note often an image deficit with regards to Pakistan among Western public opinion," AFP reported Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as saying. "As a result, Pakistan is among countries that are poorly financed like Yemen."
The United States is playing a frontline role in helping Pakistan's flood relief effort, as top US officials issued somber warnings about the massive scale of the disaster. The US has not only raised its flood-related aid to $72 million, but it has also tripled the number of helicopters to help the country's flood relief operations. US military helicopters are operational in partnership with the Pakistan military throughout the country's flood-affected areas.
The UN has warned that armed militants could exploit the situation, as some local aid groups having links to extremists are reportedly working for the flood victims.
"We all hope that militants will not take advantage of the circumstances to score points" by exploiting people driven from their homes by the floods. "The people's misery can always be exploited by those who have political or militant aims," AFP quoted Jean-Maurice Ripert, the United Nations' aid envoy for Pakistan as saying. "For us, the essential thing is to help the Pakistani authorities to work together, set priorities and implement them." "That is the best response to make to those who want to use the catastrophe for other purposes."
Destruction of infrastructure and roads by the worst floods across the country threatens to affect the oil supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan faces an unbelievable combination of problems. I know no other country that faces more challenges," US special envoy Richard Holbrook reportedly said. "We know how serious it is. The President (Barack Obama), Secretary (Hillary Clinton) and I know how serious it is. But we have to do some education to inform others."
Obama administration holds daily emergency meetings, which include representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and Nato, to review daily situation reports from its embassy in Islamabad.
The Friends of Democratic Pakistan, a group that was formed in New York in 2008 to support social and economic development in Pakistan, is scheduled to meet in Brussels in October and the US plans to turn it into a conference on the floods.
Two US Marine helicopters arrived in Pakistan last week to join relief and rescue operations in areas hit by massive floods in the country's worst catastrophe. The two aircraft are the first of 19 extra helicopters that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates urgently ordered to Pakistan last week.
The USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship, was moored off Karachi awaiting the green light to dispatch its 19 helicopters to the disaster zone. Six US helicopters — to be redeployed to Afghanistan once those on the Peleliu begin work — have so far rescued 3,000 people and delivered 146 tonnes of aid.
The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters flew into Pakistan from the USS Peleliu, which is positioned in international waters in the Arabian Sea. The remaining aircraft will arrive over the next few days and will include three US Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters, four US Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and 12 US Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters.
"The (US) president (Barack Obama) wants to lean forward in offering help to the Pakistanis," Reuters reported US Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying. "We will work with them (the Pakistanis) and do this at their pace."
The worst floods in the country's history hit the nation at a time when the government is already struggling with a faltering economy and a brutal war against Taliban militants that has killed thousands of people. The country will need billions of dollars more from international donors to recover from the floods, a daunting challenge at a time when the financial crisis has shrunk aid budgets in many countries. The US and other international partners have however stepped in to support the government by donating tens of millions of dollars and providing relief supplies and assistance. The full impact of flood has yet to be calculated, which requires hundreds of billions of rupees to mitigate the consequences facing at least four millions people in the country.
Out of the country's total cultivated area of 52.4 million acres, where wheat, cotton, rice and sugarcane are the major crops contributing seven per cent of GDP, so far 0.1 million acres of cotton crop have already been wiped out in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab by the worst floods, which are now ravaging agriculture in Sindh province.
The ongoing war against terrorism has already had a very bad impact on the country's economy and the recent floods could cause shortage of food commodities in future.
Cotton, rice, sugarcane and maize crops have been damaged and fruit orchards have been washed away, putting at risk the government's farm output growth target of 3.8 per cent for the year that started July 1. The potential loss in the country's agriculture output could cause a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate and a rise in already high inflation, while fiscal pressure could mount due to reconstruction, subsidies and relief efforts.
If the government does not chalk out a comprehensive strategy for this issue on urgent basis, worst food crisis is likely in the country, APP reported citing Dr Shahid Hasan Sidiqui an agriculture expert.
Destruction of entire villages and towns, infrastructure, livestock and crops, in addition to large-scale human displacement, necessitates urgent provision of supplies. The flooding has threatened electricity generation plants, forcing units to shut down in a country already suffering a crippling energy crisis. The country would require $2.5 billion funding just for rebuilding of 650,000 destroyed houses alone.