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At least one million people in Pakistan still need basic aid

Four months after devastating floods hit Pakistan, a million people in the south of the country continue to live in camps or temporary shelters. According to the head of the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Pakistan, these families are still in urgent need of aid. Manuel Bessler says that the crisis is ongoing, particularly in Sindh province, where displaced families require “basic survival items of food, water and sanitation, shelter and healthcare”.

Hundreds of thousands of acres across Sindh remain submerged, as high water tables mean the ground is unable to absorb the water brought by the floods. And with winter underway, there is not enough heat to evaporate what remains. Therefore areas of Sindh are unlikely to dry out until the spring arrives next year, leaving many families stuck in camps or trying to get by living in makeshift shelters.

The UN says there is a huge shortfall of money to help all the needy and displaced. To-date foreign governments have pledged only half of the 1.9 billion dollars requested. Officials say there is enough food to last for another four to eight weeks, but after that, rations may need to be cut or limited to certain areas. In January, Abu Dhabi will host a conference on the crisis in Pakistan, when officials will again lobby international donors for more financial assistance. The World Bank estimates that damaged infrastructure alone will cost 10 billion dollars to repair, in a country already deeply in debt.

But even though donors are proving reluctant to give at a top level because of Pakistan’s reputation for militancy and corruption, the international community continues to support individuals and charitable organisations on the ground. In Balochistan province, one BBC reporter travelled along submerged highways through to the town of Dera Allah Yar with aid supplied by the British Midland Doctors Association. The town’s hospital had so far received no additional help or supplies in a country struggling to cope with the sheer scale of the disaster.

Doctor Shershah Syed, a surgeon from Karachi, was also travelling with the convoy to bring medicines and aid. With backing from the Pakistan Medical Association, the surgeon and his team set a temporary operating facility on the edge of the flood zone. Here, they conducted 27 procedures in one day, bringing life-saving surgery to poor labourers who had travelled miles to reach the clinic. One of their patients was 16-year old Roubina, struggling to give birth to her first child. The team performed an emergency Caesarian, delivering Roubina’s baby boy safely. Without their help, mother and child may not have survived. Pakistan still has a high rate of maternal and infant deaths, with around 300 women dying for every 100,000 births and over 50 babies failing to survive for every 1,000 born.

As a social campaigner, Dr Shershah is angry that the plight of rural people is now even worse than before. “These people are extremely, extremely poor,” he says, and since most are illiterate labourers working land which is not their own, they have no way to help themselves recover after the flood has taken everything. In a country which puts aside more than 5 billion pounds each year for military and defence spending, the doctor is hoping that this disaster will draw the world’s attention to how Pakistan is governed and hopes international donors will demand reforms in exchange for aid.

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