New York (August 24, 2010) – An estimated 800,000 people affected by the catastrophic floods in Pakistan can only be reached by helicopter, the United Nations reported today, appealing for 40 additional helicopters to deliver humanitarian aid to those stranded in areas inaccessible by land.
“These unprecedented floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges, and this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community,” said John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Flood waters have washed away roads and bridges, cutting off some of the flooded areas from the rest of the country. Humanitarian agencies have expressed particular concern over access problems in the Swat Valley of the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as in the mountainous areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir further east.
In parts of the country’s central and southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh, where the Indus River has breached its banks, several locations have also been surrounded by water and are currently unreachable by road.
“In northern areas that are cut off, markets are short of vital supplies, and prices are rising sharply,” said Marcus Prior, spokesperson for the UN World Food Program. “People are in need of food staples to survive [and] there is currently no other way to reach these flood victims, other than by helicopter,” he added.
The National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan has already provided WFP with 12 helicopters for life-saving operations. WFP yesterday deployed three additional helicopters, which are now part of the UN Humanitarian Air Service in Pakistan.
The floods are now estimated to have affected more than 17 million people. At least 8 million of those affected are believed to be in need of humanitarian assistance. Over 1.2 million homes have been damaged or destroyed.
The floods have also inflicted severe damage to the country’s agriculture, with more than 3 million hectares of crops destroyed and hundreds of thousands of livestock killed. The damage could pose a major threat to food security in the South Asian nation, the UN has warned.
The next planting season is due in September and October and there is need to ensure that farmers have seeds to prevent the possibly of losing two consecutive harvests. Surviving livestock are also in need of fodder, Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told reporters in Geneva.
Efforts to distribute food to millions of people affected by the floods are ongoing with WFP saying that it had as of today reached some 1.75 million people with food aid. WFP’s spokesperson Emilia Casella said the agency was making efforts to reach 150,000 people with food every day.
The UN Children’s Fund is focusing its emergency response on providing water, food and health and protecting children, the agency’s spokesperson Marco Jimenez Rodriguez said. UNICEF is delivering 1.5 million litres of water to 1.5 million people every day, particularly in the northern areas, and extending its operations to the south, where flooding has spread.
UNICEF has also delivered nutritional support to at least 20,000 people, mostly children and lactating or pregnant women. During the past four days more than 60,000 people, mostly children, received vaccinations against measles, polio and tetanus. They were also given vitamin A supplements, Mr. Rodriguez said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, meanwhile, reported that flooding in the southern province of Sindh had resulted in the mushrooming of encampments across the region. The agency’s spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said UNHCR’s field staff had reported that some 700,000 displaced people were living in 1,800 settlements, many of them located in schools or colleges. Others displaced people were in the camps set up by the Government.
UNHCR was distributing tents and other relief items and providing technical advice to local officials on camp management and camp coordination. In Sindh’s Thatta district, where dozens of towns and villages have been inundated, another 150,000 people fled over the weekend. A new flood warning has been issued for Shahdadkot district. The authorities have estimated that around 3.6 million people have been rendered homeless in Sindh so far.