Pakistan’s monsoon floods have devastated millions of lives, but one month on, the international response remains sluggish, raising fears of a worsening humanitarian situation.
“The international community is not coming forward to provide funds,” said Joe Cropp of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC.) “Interest just isn’t there,” he told IRIN.
Oxfam, for its part, says that while humanitarian aid will be needed for months to come, relief activities so far “have barely scratched the surface”.
UN agencies have repeatedly called for funds over recent weeks, warning that the situation could deteriorate rapidly if new aid is not forthcoming.
Only 18 percent of the US$357 million Pakistan Flood Response Plan appeal has been funded to date. “It is really too little and it is cause for concern,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA.)
“Winter is about to set in, and with the cold the situation will become unbearable, notably in Sindh [Province] where 850,000 people live in temporary shelters,” Byrs told journalists in Geneva.
An estimated 5.8 million people have been struggling to survive in Sindh and Balochistan provinces since torrential monsoon rains pounded southern Pakistan in September, triggering serious flooding.
Over 1.5 million houses were damaged, three million acres of crops were destroyed and one third of cattle were lost, while three million people are still in need of food assistance, according to UN figures.
Many of those affected were still recovering from the disastrous 2010 floods, which affected 18 million people in Pakistan.
“What we have is a very serious situation in southern Pakistan, with hundreds of thousands of families affected, and vulnerable children who’ve already lived though one devastating flood, facing the repercussions of another one,” said Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF.) “The reality is that unless this crisis gets more attention – and by that we mean funding – things will only get worse.”
Donors stay away
As shocking images from starving children in Somalia have gripped world attention, the suffering in Pakistan is getting comparatively little media coverage. This is one of the reasons funding remains so low, says Cropp, who is based in Islamabad.
The IFRC official believes donor reluctance is also a result of the bad press Pakistan has been getting, and its reputation as a haven for armed groups. “If you look into the media, there are negative perceptions of the country. People are talking about the Pakistani government’s relation with America; they’re talking about militias, things like that. That negative perception may make donors reluctant to step forward.”
Yet, he insisted the issue should not be one of politics. “The people of Sindh are not militias, they’re ordinary people, they’re farmers, they’re teachers, and they need help.”
The Geneva-base ACT Alliance also urged donors to step forward, bemoaning what it called the “sluggish” international response.
“The worst-hit communities are mostly likely already impoverished, marginalized and need help to stop them falling further below the poverty line and deeper into debt and uncertainty,” the alliance of churches and church-related organizations said.