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The flood, and the response

Small children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea in Pakistan
Small children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea in Pakistan (Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN)

On a tour of water-logged and rain-weary Pakistan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the floods were the worst disaster he had ever seen. The response to the crisis has been less enthusiastic - only about half the US$459.7 million requested by the United Nations has materialized.

"The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of the Pakistan government puts the numbers of affected population at around 20 million people and rising, in an area the size of Italy," said Saleem Rehmat, Senior Programme Coordinator of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Pakistan.

"Donor fatigue is an issue, but I think it's not an issue for the United States," Eric Shwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, said at a press briefing in Washington.

The US deputy representative in Pakistan Frank Ruggiero told the same briefing that America had provided more than $90 million of support and was leading the donor response.

IRIN spoke to humanitarian experts and NGOs on whether the disaster was indeed the "worst ever", and what they thought of the response. This is what they had to say.

Peter Walker, current head of the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University, is the founder and past manager of the World Disasters Report, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Taking into account the numbers affected, "I think by the time the disaster is over it will have been one of the worst on record," he said.

Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Famine Centre. <font color="ff0000">* For Disaster Reduction web special only</font>

Peter Walker
Tufts University
Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Famine Centre. <font color="ff0000">* For Disaster Reduction web special only</font>...
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
The flood, and the response
Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Famine Centre. <font color="ff0000">* For Disaster Reduction web special only</font>...

Photo: Tufts University
Peter Walker

"The real issue is how many people have been affected, and how severely has their ability to create sustainable livelihoods been affected? It is the scale and the multi-layered nature of this disaster that is so overwhelming.

"The immediate flooding has wiped out the asset base of millions of people, so they face a future where they have to refinance and build homes, clear debris-covered land (assuming it has not been washed away), restock shops and market stalls, re-equip small businesses, etc, etc. And all this in towns where the schools, clinics, courts, police stations all need rehabilitating.

"We know that Pakistan is likely to lose at least one year's good production, and may see food-production levels lowered for the next few years because of the combined effects of soil erosion, destroyed irrigation, and contaminated soil.

"Then we have the army as the only really effective state institution, and an insurgency, and foreign interest in Pakistan's politics.

Top five flood donors
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom
Source: OCHA

"So, will the floods lead to a possible famine like situation next year? Will this be enough to topple the government, and will they be replaced by a military government?

"It is this complexity and propensity for one crisis to tip into another that makes Pakistan today one of the most devastating disasters."

He was unable to comment on the response, as he did not have the data to make an assessment.

Randolph Kent, head of the Humanitarian Futures programme at King's College, London, has served as the UN humanitarian coordinator in hot spots like Kosovo and Somalia.

He said the millions of people affected in Pakistan were "just the beginning" of the kind of disaster that could unfold in coming years. "Humanitarian agencies and countries have to become more proactive about pre-empting disasters to be able to respond better."

He called for an annual assembly like the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, to help aid agencies and countries thrash out ways to prevent or prepare for future humanitarian crises.


Randolph Kent, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and Designated Official for Somalia at the peace talks in Arta, in neighbouring Djibouti, where the newly elected president was inaugurated
[Somalia] Randolph Kent, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and Designated Official for Somalia.
Wednesday, January 10, 2001
IRIN interview with Randolph Kent, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator
[Somalia] Randolph Kent, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and Designated Official for Somalia.

Photo: IRIN
Randolph Kent

"Countries should also give the authority to the UN Secretary-General to issue an annual 'State of Humanitarian Preparedness', identifying the vulnerable communities."

Kent reiterated what he had written in his blog on World Humanitarian Day - 19 August - that "humanitarian crises in the foreseeable future will be far more complex and far more interactive than they have ever been in modern history."

He cited the simultaneous disasters unfolding across the world at the moment - floods in Pakistan, drought and fires in Russia, landslides in China.

"It is evident that so-called 'synchronous failures', or the collapse of entire economic and communications systems, will result in massive loss of life and livelihoods in even the most seemingly well-controlled societies.

"The divide between what one had assumed to be a 'hapless' South and a 'resilient' North is increasingly a fiction, and a growing number of vulnerable people in rich and poor societies in all hemispheres will find themselves exposed to new types of threats, as well as more intensive conventional threats.

The UN, he said, would have to be far more "creative", "proactive", "daring" and "speculative" in identifying potential threats.

This would require the UN to "engage in longer-term strategic analysis, focusing on potential vulnerabilities, and to do so in ways that bring together the disciplines and expertise that are available in the more than thirty funds, programmes and specialized agencies that comprise the United Nations," he told IRIN.

Saleem Rehmat, at IOM in Pakistan, agreed with Ban. "Yes, in terms of human misery and damage to infrastructure," it was one of the worst disasters. "More than 10,000 villages have been affected; infrastructure - including small and big roads, thousands of link bridges, telecom networks - have been destroyed.

''This disaster is bigger than the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, [the Asian] tsunami [in 2004], and even the Haiti earthquake [in 2010]...''

"This disaster is bigger than the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, [the Asian] tsunami [in 2004], and even the Haiti earthquake [in 2010], in terms of people affected and damage to their properties and infrastructure.

"The international community is trying its best to respond quickly in cash as well as in kind, but in terms of the scale of the disaster, more immediate funds will be required to stave off a second wave of disaster (people suffering or dying due to disease or hunger) if the flood victims do not get immediate support in terms of shelter, food, health, and water and sanitation."

He said the donor response had not been slow, "but more needs to be done in terms of funding by the international community, keeping in mind the scale of the disaster affecting at least 20 to 25 percent of the whole of Pakistan."

Did he think the media coverage had been adequate, because that might influence donor response?

"At the national level, media outlets have round-the-clock coverage of the flood situation, and what the flood victims are suffering with each passing day, but I think it is not being projected at the same level in the international media - it needs to be done as if on a 'war footing'.

"I think if the international media has a first-hand look at the ground - how people are suffering and how much damage and destruction the floodwaters have caused - the international donor community will have a better idea [of the situation] and respond massively, as per the immediate needs of the flood victims."

Louis Belanger

Louis Belanger
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The flood, and the response
Louis Belanger

Photo: Oxfam
Louis Belanger

Louis Belanger
, the humanitarian media officer at Oxfam International, said he could not be the judge of whether the Pakistan floods were the "worst ever" disaster, but the donor response had been "much too little, and much too slow". He said it was difficult to "generalize" about why the response had been slow because different donors were influenced by different factors.

"With the exception of the US, the UK, Denmark, Norway and Australia, no government has pledged more than $5 million. The donor community really needs to step up and respond on a scale that is commensurate with the magnitude of the disaster.

"It does seem, however, that the volume of the response is affected by the fact that many of the flooded districts are the same ones where the fighting between the Pakistan military and the Taliban has taken place over the past two years.

"We fear that some donors may feel they have already made substantial commitments to the crisis-affected population, and that they've done their bit – albeit not in response to this latest emergency.

"It's possible also that the criticism of the government's handling of the flood crisis has affected donor willingness to respond – some donors have expressed concern about the way in which aid funds will be handled.

"It's also an unfortunate fact that different types of disasters attract different levels of attention and different levels of funding. Tsunamis and earthquakes, for example, historically have tended to attract higher levels of funding than slower-onset disasters, such as droughts and floods."

Jonathan Whittall

Jonathan Whittall
Jonathan Whittall
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The flood, and the response
Jonathan Whittall

Photo: MSF
Jonathan Whittall

Jonathan Whittall
, acting deputy country representative in Pakistan of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said it was quite difficult to compare one disaster to another. "You have to take into account the existing vulnerability of the affected population, which will vary from Haiti to Pakistan."

Whittall is based in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the northwest, where the flooding has been severe. He said the response had been slow, but "what is overlooked is the very rapid response of community-based organizations", which had played a leading role in helping people in many hard-to-reach areas.

In 2009 a large-scale military offensive in the province's Swat Valley destroyed homes and livelihoods and displaced two million people. MSF relies entirely on private funding, so it had got around being viewed as "Western" and had avoided any hostility, Whittall said. The organization had been operating in Pakistan for more than a decade, had forged deep links with the community and had managed to win the trust of local leaders.

He was not sure how much money MSF had been able to raise, "but it has, so we have been able to scale up our operations."

US spokesman Philip Crowley had the last word when he told reporters in Washington: "You had an earthquake in Haiti, and, tragic as it was, it happened, it ended, and we've been dealing with the impact of that ever since. In Pakistan you actually have a disaster that is still happening; you have the flooding that is actually getting worse.

"That has probably affected ... your ability to get reporters in there. And, quite honestly, to some extent it is the pictures that come out of these disasters that do help trigger both governments and people around the world to respond."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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