Pakistan: Getting bogged down

News Stories, 10 August 2010

© Reuters/Adrees Latif
Residents carry their belongings through a flooded road in Risalpur, Nowshera District, in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 10 (UNHCR) Pakistan's flooding is testing the limits of the country's emergency response capacity as well as that of UNHCR and other UN and international agencies.

"The situation is one of the most difficult we have ever faced," said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR representative in Pakistan. "We are smack in the middle of a catastrophe, people in need are everywhere, some routes are blocked, and even when we deliver tents some people may lack dry land where they can be erected."

Thousands of villages and towns in low-lying areas have not seen flooding on this scale in generations. Across the country, Pakistan's Federal Flood Commission puts the number of homes destroyed or damaged at more than 300,000, with more than 14,000 cattle dead and 2.6 million acres of cultivated land under water. So far some 1,600 people have been killed, but many millions of Pakistanis and Afghan refugees have been affected by the flooding.

UNHCR's main relief work has been in the north where flooding has been most severe. Normally our work there is geared towards Afghan refugees and conflict-displaced Pakistanis, but in this instance we are working equally for all affected communities, both Pakistani and Afghan.

Main roads are blocked, and in several places we are contending with difficult security conditions, making it difficult for staff to move freely. All 29 bridges in the Swat Valley have been washed out, for example. Continuing bad weather has grounded helicopter airlifts to the region. Some aid is being delivered by mule or on foot. When we deliver tents, there is little dry land on which to erect them.

Although we have the benefit of a presence in Pakistan's Khyber Pashtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces dating back more than 32 years, meeting the demands of this crisis is a massive challenge.

In Balochistan Province, for example, our stockpiles are nearly exhausted. Trucks despatched from Peshawar, Karachi and and Lahore carrying additional tents and other items have been delayed in some instances for more than a week by flooded roads.

In parts of the Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), in Pakistan's mountainous north, landslides and washed out bridges have completely cut off thousands of people in need.

"Amongst those caught up in the floods are many tenant farmers and also Afghan refugees living out on the inundated flood plains," Kebede said. 'Many of these people are now without shelter and have lost their food, livestock and all their possessions."

So far UNHCR has provided more than 41,000 plastic tarpaulins, 14,500 family tents, 70,000 blankets, 40,000 sleeping mats, 14,800 kitchen sets, 26,600 jerry cans, 18,600 plastic buckets, 17,700 mosquito nets and 13.3 tons of soap. On Monday we sent 1,000 tents to southern Sindh Province, where floodwaters are still cresting. Today, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we are dispatching 300 tents and family kits to Utmanzai, 500 tents and 1,000 family kits to Upper Dir, 193 tents, family kits and plastic tarpaulins to Khazana, 300 tents, family kits and plastic tarpaulins to Azakahel and 75 of each to Khursan.

UNHCR is calling for more help from donors to reach the neediest. It will shortly launch an emergency appeal for additional funds to assist up to 560,000 people affected by the crisis. In addition to providing tents, plastic tarpaulins, transitional shelters for women-headed households and other assistance, UNHCR plans to rehabilitate communal facilities that have been destroyed by the floods, such as water points and sanitation facilities, clinics, schools and access roads.

By Peter Kessler in Islamabad




Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

Photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award among other commendations, is on the ground in Pakistan.

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Pakistan's DevastationPlay video

Pakistan's Devastation

Survivors assess the destruction left behind by the floods in Pakistan.
Pakistan: FloodsPlay video

Pakistan: Floods

Millions are displaced by the worst floods and landslides northwest Pakistan has seen in decades.

UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Pakistan: Pushed to SafetyPlay video

Pakistan: Pushed to Safety

Thousands are forced to flee the fighting in Pakistan's Khyber Agency on the border with Afghanistan.