Sep 20, 2010

Crisis is unprecedented, response can be no less

Andrew Mitchell
Pakistan has been devastated by floods. Ten years of rain fell in just one week. More than six weeks in, dozens more towns and villages are still being flooded.
On Sunday September 19, the United Nations brought donors to New York, to call for more international support and set out the next steps on how to help Pakistan begin to recover from the disastrous floods.
Over 20 million people in Pakistan have been affected so far — that’s greater than the combined total of the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami; 2005 Pakistan earthquake; 2005 Hurricane Katrina; and 2010 Haiti earthquake. Valerie Amos, the new UN Humanitarian Chief, said on Pakistan “a new disaster is happening every few days”. The international community has committed more than $1 billion. Some have contributed noticeably more than others. A few wealthier countries could no doubt have done a lot more.
Nearly two million homes have been destroyed or damaged; more than a million cattle and other livestock killed; food supplies and harvests ruined; livelihoods and businesses wiped out; hundreds of bridges, roads, electricity pylons destroyed; and more than 8,000 schools damaged — with thousands more still being used as refuges for people who have lost their homes. The UK was at the forefront of the international emergency response. Within days we had sent thousands of tents, and we’ve now provided shelter for more than 110,000 families; safe drinking water and sanitation for millions of people; help for half-a-million malnourished children and pregnant/ breastfeeding women; funded 12 planes delivering vital aid; and accelerated a bridge-building programme to re-open vital access routes — ten bridges are already on a boat from the UK to Pakistan.
I travelled to Pakistan soon after the floods started. In Pir Sabaq, a village in the northwest, I met men, women and children who had been driven from their homes, many left with only their clothes on their backs. The town was devastated; all rubble and ruin. I saw twelve-foot high watermarks on one wall left standing. The villagers now live on higher ground outside the town in tents provided by the UK. It is hard to comprehend what these people have been through and lost. From Pakistan I went directly to the last United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Pakistan Floods, where I announced the UK would double its contribution to £64 million and I urged other nations to reach deep into their pockets. Some did, others have remained conspicuous by their silence.
As media interest wanes and dramatic pictures of the suffering in Pakistan start to fade from UK televisions and newspapers, people may be forgiven for thinking that the worst is behind Pakistan. This could not be further from the truth. In the south, towns are still being flooded and water is not draining away; people still need life-saving help and a major public health crisis remains a very real risk. And grave challenges lie ahead as Pakistan begins to recover: over one million large animals and six million poultry are lost; three-and-a-half million hectares of standing crops are damaged or lost. With around 80 per cent of those affected by the floods dependent on farming, it is vital that we replace lost seeds, grains, and tools before the critical planting season next month and November.
The revised Pakistan Response Plan, published on Friday, has quadrupled to some $2 billion, reflecting the huge increase in magnitude of the disaster. Aid so far has kept people alive. We now also need to start helping people to get back on their feet.
The UK will continue to do everything it can. We will always be by Pakistan’s side to help people rebuild their lives, and to get their children back into education. This is the benchmark against which future disasters will be measured, and by which individual countries’ responses will be remembered and judged. It is clear we all need to now look at what more we can do. The scale of this crisis is unlike anything we have seen before. The response of the international community can be no less.
The writer is the UK’s secretary of state for international development.

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