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Agencies warn of a looming humanitarian disaster in Pakistan

A month after international aid agencies spoke about the possibility of having to end their relief operations in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces, the same organisations have issued a second warning about the lack of funds to continue their work.

In November, agencies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Care and Acted highlighted the continuing need of millions of Pakistanis following this year’s devastating floods. This week, they have again spoken out about the dire situation in the region.

According to the latest United Nations report, over 5 million people have been affected by the floods. Oxfam estimates that nearly 3 million are still in urgent need of food supplies and 2 million people, a quarter of them children, are increasingly vulnerable to the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. Many tens of thousands also remain homeless, since around 320,000 houses were destroyed by the floods and another 480,000 were damaged.

The United Nations asked for 357 million dollars in emergency funds to support the relief efforts. However, so far, less than 40% of this amount – 131 million dollars – has been raised. A spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the news agency AlertNet that the appeal remained “distressingly underfunded”, mainly as a result of the global economic crisis and the competitive needs of other disasters such as the East African famine. 

Save the Children’s country director was reported by Alertnet as saying the situation in the affected provinces is “going from bad to worse”. The water has yet to disappear from many places, leaving some farmers unable to sow their winter crops. With over two-thirds of food stocks having been destroyed, many families not only need continuing food supplies, but also agricultural support when they can once again begin to farm.

The chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority has added his voice to the concerns of the development agencies. Zafar Iqbal Qadir said that “with the winter approaching fast, millions of people who are still without shelter will be left out in the cold”. He hoped that more funding would therefore be pledged to support the “urgent need” of those affected, demonstrating the kind of generosity the international community showed following the floods of 2010. However, if more money is not forthcoming, the development agencies say they cannot rule out the possibility of a major humanitarian crisis, as they will be forced to wind down the support being given to millions of Pakistan’s most vulnerable and desperate people.

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