News

Pakistan Struggles to Survive the Worst Natural Disaster in Recent History

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”.
– Desmond Tutu

What Happened?
Fueled by torrential downpours, flooding began on July 22nd, 2010 in Baluchistan, the poorest province in Pakistan. This has been the worst natural disaster in Pakistani history since the country’s inception in 1947. Water has swept over the entire length of the country, submerging a fifth of the land-mass-a 62,000 square mile area larger than the entire state of California.

“This is a disaster which has affected many more people than I have ever seen,” said John Holmes, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who also leads relief efforts in Haiti.

How Bad Is It?
While the estimated death toll ranges between 1,300 and 1,600, nearly 20 million people have been significantly affected, out of which 10 million are in urgent need (UN Sources). More than half of these people do not have a roof over their heads.

“We had run out of food and clean water, and were getting sick from drinking contaminated water supplies. The water was between 22 and 25 feet deep. Dead animals were floating in the water and there was a terrible smell in the air. The company I work for raised the alert after I had been missing for several days. The Pakistani army came and airlifted me and my family to safety.”
-Shabana Iqbal, Nowshera District

The already fragile infrastructure has been completely obliterated: bridges, 5000 miles of roads and railways, 7000 schools, electricity, over 400 health clinics and communications have been smashed to pieces and washed away.
“Schools have been closed and the entire city has been shut down.”
-Amar Zaidi, Karachi.

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the country’s economy, has suffered colossal losses. Approximately 17 million acres of the most fertile croplands have been submerged. Not only have the current crops been lost, but the seeds for the future harvest and the subsequent daily incomes have been lost as well. The waters have also killed more than 200,000 head of livestock, and washed away large quantities of stored commodities that feed millions throughout the year. In a country of high unemployment, extreme poverty has dire consequences for deep regional, class and sectarian fissures.

As the waters begin to subside in the northern areas, many fear that unclean water will spread diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. United Nations officials say that a shortage of aid funds has left some six million people, the majority of them children and infants, at risk of potentially lethal diseases borne by dirty water.

“This has been a heart-wrenching day for me,” Ban Ki-Moon said after flying over the hard-hit areas in Pakistan. “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

What Is Being Done?
The army, public and private sector, international and local NGOs, as well as the civil society in Pakistan are working tirelessly to provide aid in the form of food, clean water, tents and medicine to the flood victims.

The United Nations has appealed for immediate international donations of $460 million, but as of August 16 only one-third of that had been provided. The World Bank pledged to reroute money from other projects to provide emergency funds to help recovery efforts, the European Union said it would provide an additional 30 million Euros (39 million US dollars) in emergency relief assistance to flood-stricken Pakistan, bringing its total aid to 70 million Euros, however, response times are extremely slow.

While this money trickles in, NGOs on the ground need immediate help to enable them to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the devastation of the floods.

“From what I saw in Nowshera, the flood-affected included Afghan refugees that once again lost all of their possessions after having restored some semblance of their lives and livelihoods. They now have to start all over again.”
-Ajay Chhibber, UNDP Director for the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific

How can I help?
See it for yourself: Websites such as on-the-ground (http:/www.ontheground.pk) started by Jacqueline Novogratz (Founder and CEO of Acumen Fund) has a detailed description of the tragedy and has an overview of the players on the ground.

Donate: Please give generously-every little bit counts and there is an urgent need to get money to the right places as soon as possible. The authors recommend the following charities that are certified by the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP):

– IRC
– Doctors without borders
– CARE
– American Red Cross

For a more detailed list please see: //www.charitywatch.org/hottopics/Pakistan_Flood.html

Spread the word
The spotlight barely rested on Pakistan before it was swung onto other issues. People are unaware of the frightening magnitude of this disaster, and its impact. This is an opportunity for building bridges that we cannot pass up.

Author’s Biography
Fatima Khan (OE) and Zahra Khan (NB) are part of the team leading the relief efforts in Pakistan.

October 12, 2010
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