Six months later, Pakistan’s flood disaster threatens to worsen

Results of a nutritional survey show levels of malnutrition in flood-affected parts of Pakistan are as bad as those in Somalia in 2008 and worse than those in Niger in 2010.

January 26, 2011

 “Oxfam is alarmed to learn that recently released figures show that Sindh is in the grip of a serious nutrition crisis,” said Oxfam Pakistan Country Director Neva Khan.

“Emergency aid right after the floods saved many lives, but, as these figures show, millions are at serious risk.”

The survey, conducted by the provincial government and the U.N. Children's Fund, revealed malnutrition rates of 23.1 per cent in northern Sindh and 21.2 per cent in the south.

Those rates are above the 15 per cent emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.

Northern Sindh also had a 6.1 per cent severe acute malnutrition rate and southern Sindh had 2.9 per cent, both far above the WHO thresholds.

“Malnutrition is about more than a lack of food,” Khan said. “Nutrition is a complex issue that encompasses health, shelter, food, water and sanitation. The humanitarian community, the Government of Pakistan and the international community need to come together to urgently deliver a comprehensive response that saves lives and prevents the situation from deteriorating. Now is the time for action.”

Resetting Pakistan's Priorities

 

In a report, “Resetting Pakistan’s Priorities,” international development agency Oxfam warns that millions of people are still in dire need and that the situation could deteriorate further. Although the aid effort has reached millions, it has struggled to match the immense scale of human need.

“Six months on millions of people are still facing flood water, shivering in temporary shelters and struggling to find food," said Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada.

"Oxfam is currently reaching nearly 1.9 million people – one of our biggest programs worldwide – but this is dwarfed by the number of people who are in need. The aid community has done a tremendous amount, but given the immense scale of this disaster we have only scratched the surface of human need.” 

Pakistan’s floods are the biggest emergency of recent times, with more than 18 million people affected, yet the funding for the response has been woefully slow. The UN appeal for $2 billion to rebuild Pakistan remains only 56 per cent funded.

Oxfam Canada’s appeal for Pakistan raised $630,486 from individuals, events and institutions such as unions. The Humanitarian Coalition, of which Oxfam is a member, raised an additional $2.145 million.

In Canada, individual donations for emergency relief in Pakistan totalled $46.8 million between August and October 2010. In comparison, Canadian individual donations to the Haiti relief fund reached $124 million in the first month following the earthquake.

Six months after the rains, hundreds of thousands remain in camps and thousands are living in tents beside their destroyed homes.

Sub-zero winter temperatures have increased the incidence of chest infections including influenza and pneumonia, with more than 200,000 cases reported in the second week of January alone. In the south, swathes of land – both homesteads and agricultural – remain under contaminated water and Oxfam is concerned that already-worrying pre-flood malnutrition rates have risen.   

The Pakistan government is due to stop emergency relief operations in most areas from 31 January 2011, but Oxfam warned that this could put at risk large numbers of people who still need assistance. 

Oxfam is currently reaching more than its targeted number of people for emergency relief and will continue to provide emergency relief aid in areas where it is still needed.

Oxfam urges the Pakistan government and the international community to learn the lessons of this disaster and seize the chance to re-build Pakistan better, specifically by providing land for landless labourers, providing better facilities for girls in schools and investing more in disaster management. Many landless farmers – including women farmers – are scared to go home due to debts owed to their landlords, often for the crops that were washed away in the flood.

Still a chance to step out of the disaster spiral, Oxfam says

“Pakistan could salvage a new beginning from the debris of this disaster. If the country invests in disaster risk reduction, then the devastation wrought by this disaster could be consigned to history,” Fox said.

“With bold steps - like redistributing land and ensuring women have access to land - a fairer and stronger country could emerge. We must seize this chance to address the causes of inequality and poverty to build back a better and more resilient Pakistan. ” 

Oxfam also warned that action was needed now to prevent a secondary food crisis.  

Agriculture was particularly hard hit in the flood with more than 2.2 million hectares of crops lost. Most farmers missed the last planting season in November, some because their land was still underwater, but others because they did not get seeds and other agricultural supplies in time.

The April farming season is likely to be missed unless urgent action is taken now to rehabilitate the fields that can be planted and distribute seeds and tools to farmers. 

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1.Oxfam is currently reaching nearly 1.9 million people affected by the disaster. Oxfam’s emergency response includes the provision of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation facilities, including sanitation kits and hygiene supplies, as well as emergency shelter kits, cash grants and livelihoods support. It is assisting people in three provinces of Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

For more information contact:

In Pakistan: Amil Khan on +92 3085 557 219 or amilkhan@oxfam.org.uk

In Canada: Karen Palmer at 613-240-3047 or karen.palmer@oxfam.ca