Millions of lives at risk in Pakistan, warns Oxfam

By staff writers
October 29, 2010

International development agency Oxfam says funds for the UN Pakistan disaster appeal are drying up and threatening millions of lives in the aid and reconstruction effort.

Three months after floods devastated the country, cases of disease are increasing. In the worst-hit region, the southern province of Sindh, large areas remain underwater.

As winter approaches, 7 million people are still without adequate shelter, says the aid NGO.

The comments follow similar warnings from the UK Disasters Emergency Committee and other development organisations, as previously reported on Ekklesia.

Oxfam is calling on the donor community to fund Pakistan generously in its time of need, help the emergency response in the south, as well as recovery work across all flood-affected areas.

In Sindh, more than a million people are displaced, their homes damaged or destroyed. Tens of thousands of families, who had sheltered in schools and other buildings, are now being newly displaced as schools re-open.

Large areas of land are still under water and some communities remain surrounded by flood waters. Many farmers will not be able to plant winter crops. Government officials say some of the worst affected areas could take up to six months to dry out.

“The crisis is far from over. Parts of southern Sindh, the worst-hit area, still remain a disaster zone. When the world’s attention was focused on Pakistan’s flood victims there was a chance of seeing substantial aid being delivered. But as the worst of the flood waters have receded so has the promise of significant funding”, said Neva Khan, Oxfam’s director in Pakistan.

Khan added: “The UN emergency appeal is less than 40 per cent funded. Many of the world’s richest countries are failing the flood victims, who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.”

Food, shelter and nutrition are of particular concern, say relief and reconstruction organisations, locally and internationally.

According to the United Nations, 10 million people are in need of immediate food assistance. The funding shortfall is so serious that existing regular food rations to 3.5 million people could be in jeopardy.

Across the country nearly 2 million homes are damaged or destroyed and 7 million people do not have adequate shelter. With winter a few weeks away, there are fears that malnutrition rates, pneumonia and other respiratory infections will sharply increase.

There have already been 99 confirmed cases of cholera since the start of the floods and 78 cases of polio were reported this month, up 26 per cent from last year – a dramatic increase when the disease is close to eradication worldwide.

At the same time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning it will have to drastically reduce surveillance staff numbers at five of its hubs in flood affected areas in November and possibly close down the operations altogether early next year unless it urgently receives extra funds.

Other UN agencies face similar problems. The World Food Programme (WFP) faces a $70 million shortfall and will have to start cutting food rations from November. Funding for programmes next year remains uncertain.

Oxfam says the initial aid effort has helped to save lives and begun to address urgent needs. But the agency warns that gains made could be undermined because of the funding crisis. While the response from some donors and the public has been generous, the UN’s Pakistan flood appeal for just over $2 billion, is only 38 per cent funded.

In some flood-hit areas, Oxfam has already started early recovery work to help communities rebuild their lives and homes. But emergency work is still taking place in Sindh, where families may not be able to move back home for several months.

Oxfam and its partners are currently helping more than 1.2 million people in Pakistan, providing water and sanitation, distributing hygiene and shelter kits and cash vouchers so that families can purchase basic food items.

Early recovery work includes cash-for-work schemes to help people begin to earn a living and clean up their damaged homes and communities; and distributing seeds and fertilisers in areas where farmers can replant.

More on Oxfam:


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.