Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Pakistan: The Under-Reported in Pakistan

pakistan aidBy S. Chowdhury
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

ISLAMABAD (IDN) - The fate of more than 5 million people in Pakistan, who have been left destitute by devastating monsoon rains and flooding in southern parts of the county, is eliciting only a lukewarm response from the international community.

Nearly two weeks after the United Nations and its partners launched the Pakistan Floods Rapid Response Plan mid-September and called for US$357 million to provide food, water, sanitation, health, and emergency shelter to the worst hit families for six months, only $19 million have been received, the UN informed on September 30.

Stressing the gravity of the situation, just one year after the largest floods in recent history, Timo Pakkala, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan said: “Urgent relief is critical as families continue to suffer in the aftermath of the floods. Unless we receive new pledges to the Floods 2011 Rapid Response Plan, millions of people will be left in need of food, clean water and essential medicines for months to come."

Pakkala added: "Without additional resources, lives of the most vulnerable are endangered."

The floods have taken the lives of 415 people, displaced 1.8 million people and destroyed or damaged over a million homes. According to the Government of Pakistan, 2.16 million acres of crops have also been wiped out.

UN agencies estimate 2.5 million people are in desperate need of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. Food is needed for 2.75 million people, while 2.96 million people are in urgent need of medical care. At least 1.75 million people require emergency shelter.

Relying on limited contingency stocks, the UN and its humanitarian partners to date have provided emergency shelter for 314,500 households. More than 1.6 million people have received medicines and medical consultations, and more than 413,000 people received food aid. Safe drinking water has been delivered to approximately 200,000 people and the UN aims to double this and provide up to 400,000 people with access to safe drinking water in the coming weeks.

Resources running out

The world body is warning that if more funding is not received for relief activities, the UN and aid agencies will run out of food stocks in October. Safe drinking water supplies are only sufficient for the coming weeks; a third of the flood affected population could be without medical care in a month's time, and contingency stocks of emergency shelter supplies will last only a few more weeks.

"It is tragic to see families displaced from the floods with no shelter and barely enough to survive on. These families worry their children will go hungry, and without access to safe drinking water, they fear they will become sick from drinking contaminated water," said Fawad Hussein, Team Leader for Flood Relief of the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA). "More must be done to prevent further suffering and loss of life," he said.

This emergency has compounded existing vulnerabilities due to devastating floods in 2010 that affected more than 18 million people across Pakistan. Of 27 affected districts in Sindh and Balochistan, 13 were affected during the 2010 floods.

Pakistan floods rapid response plan released on September 18 said torrential monsoon rains had triggered severe flooding in Pakistan, primarily in Sindh Province.

Before the monsoon season began, forecasts predicted 10 percent below normal rains for Sindh and the southern parts of the country for the 2011 monsoon season. However, by August 10, heavy rains began affecting districts of southern Sindh and extended to the northern regions of the province and adjoining areas of south Punjab and north-eastern Balochistan.

While this spell lasted till mid-August, another more debilitating and sustained rain spell heavily affected areas across the entire Sindh Province from the end of August until September 14. Concurrent impact in adjoining vast areas of Balochistan has resulted in serious humanitarian consequences including in South Punjab. In Sindh, the central and southern districts have been the worst affected, according to UN agencies' findings.

Country ranks 125 on UN Index

The devastation caused by floods is adding to the woes of the people of Pakistan, which ranked 125 among 169 countries on UN's 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) that measures achievements in health, education and income indicators, as an alternative to purely macroeconomic assessments of national progress.

The HDI forms part of the Human Development Report 2010, a flagship study produced annually by the United Nations Development Programme. The report, titled 'The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development'.

Referring to "sustainability and vulnerability", the report said 4 percent of Pakistan's population of 187 million is living in degraded land. Some 10 percent of the population is without access to water and 55 percent without sanitation. 896 deaths per million due to indoor and outdoor air and water pollution and 8,953 per million people on average who have been affected by natural disaster in Pakistan.

At the same time, the armed forces of Pakistan are the eighth-largest in the world.

The World Factbook, published by the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S. describes Pakistan as "an impoverished and underdeveloped country," which "has suffered from decades of internal political disputes and low levels of foreign investment."

Between 2001 and 2007, however, poverty levels decreased by 10 percent, as Islamabad steadily raised development spending. During 2004 and 2007, GDP (gross domestic product) growth in the 5 to 8 percent range was spurred by gains in the industrial and service sectors - despite severe electricity shortfalls - but growth slowed in 2008-2009 and unemployment rose.

Inflation remains the top concern among the public, climbing from 7.7 percent in 2007 to more than 13 percent in 2010. In addition, the Pakistani rupee has depreciated since 2007 as a result of political and economic instability.

The government agreed to an International Monetary Fund Standby Arrangement in November 2008 in response to a balance of payments crisis, but during 2009-2010 its current account strengthened and foreign exchange reserves stabilized – largely because of lower oil prices and record remittances from workers abroad.

However, record floods in July-August 2010 lowered agricultural output and contributed to a jump in inflation, and reconstruction costs will strain the limited resources of the government.

Textiles account for most of Pakistan's export earnings, but Pakistan's failure to expand a viable export base for other manufactures has left the country vulnerable to shifts in world demand. Other long term challenges, according to the World Factbook, include expanding investment in education, healthcare, and electricity production, and reducing dependence on foreign donors.

Pakistan has a semi-industrialized economy. The growth poles of the Pakistani economy are situated along the Indus River. Diversified economies of Karachi and Punjab's urban centres, coexist with lesser developed areas in other parts of the country.