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Pakistan floodwaters recede, urgent humanitarian needs remain

News Stories, 5 October 2011

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Seventy-year-old Rehman Merhan is living in a tented village in Sindh province after losing his home due to severe flooding.

SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan, October 5 (UNHCR) As UNHCR continues to distribute tents and other emergency relief supplies to thousands of flood victims in southern Pakistan, many of the displaced are still living in precarious conditions, untouched by aid efforts.

In some of the worst-hit districts in Sindh province, flood victims continue to go hungry. With no access to clean drinking water or sanitation, many families are forced to use contaminated water sources.

More than a month after the floods hit the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, families are still living in makeshift shelters by the side of the road, hemmed in by floodwaters that have turned into a breeding ground for water-borne diseases.

"We are providing families with tents and kits of aid supplies, which addresses the urgent need for shelter," said Aslambek Dakhkilgov, head of UNHCR's field office in Sindh. "But these people lack other basic services and their needs are great."

A month of incessant monsoon rains in Sindh and parts of Balochistan left at least 7 million people affected and claimed more than 400 lives. It is the second year running that disastrous flooding has hit Pakistan and many of this year's victims had only just begun to rebuild their lives.

"UNHCR has looked after and respected the women of our community," said 70-year-old Rahman Mehran, a resident of a tented village in the flood-affected Tando Allah Yar district of Sindh that shelters115 displaced families.

Rahman recounted how one month ago, after the settlement was first established, a local landowner distributed food to the families. The generous gesture has not been repeated, though a water pump installed by the landlord continues to provide the community with potable water.

At Otho Farm, another tented village in the same district, a group of 80 minority Hindu families are still in shock from the effects of the floods. The waters washed away their mud homes and submerged their crops.

UNHCR is operating in eight of Sindh's 22 districts with a team of eight dedicated staff. They have distributed family tents and household kits to nearly 100,000 flood victims through local NGO partners and volunteer groups.

Since its flood relief operation began in September, UNHCR has distributed 7,000 tents and more than 10,000 plastic sheets, which can be used to provide shelter. Some 6,000 kits of household items have also been distributed. Other UN agencies are assisting the Pakistani government's relief operation by providing food, water and health care to the residents of the tent villages.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance has been slowed by damaged or submerged roads and by the fact that many of those affected live in small, isolated communities. Families are often reluctant to relocate or to leave behind valuable livestock. Space for pitching tents is also scarce. Much of the land is still under water or too muddy.

"After last year's floods, families are reluctant to move far away from their villages," said UNHCR's Dakhkilgov. Last year, some homes were looted and vandalized when the owners went to seek protection in camps.

And reaching everyone is a problem because of floodwaters and the poor state of some roads. Aid workers often take many hours to reach people in need.

"Even though the government and other aid agencies are doing a lot, huge gaps remain," said Lars Oberhaus of the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, ECHO, during a recent mission to Sindh to monitor the distribution of relief items. "We want to ensure that aid is delivered in a principled and impartial manner, to the most vulnerable and needy," he said.

Though the monsoon rains which caused the flooding have ended, it is expected to be months before the water completely recedes. By that time, aid agencies fear the onset of winter will have begun, bringing new problems.

By David Nthengwe in Sindh Province, Pakistan

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