UN in plea for helicopters to reach 800,000 cut off by floods
Published 25/08/2010 | 05:00
About 800,000 people have been cut off by floods in Pakistan and are only reachable by air, the United Nations said yesterday, adding that it needs at least 40 more helicopters to ferry lifesaving aid to increasingly desperate people.
The appeal was an indication of the massive problems facing the relief effort in Pakistan more than three weeks after the floods hit the country, affecting more than 17 million people and raising concerns about social unrest and political instability.
"These floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges, and this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community," said John Holmes, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
Earlier, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said hundreds of health facilities had been damaged and tens of thousands of medical workers displaced, and the country's chief meteorologist warned that it would be two weeks until the Indus River -- the focus of the flooding -- returns to normal levels.
Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry said high tides in the Arabian Sea would slow the drainage of the Indus into it. Those tides, he said, would begin changing on August 25.
"The flood situation is not yet over," Mr Chaudhry said, adding that the Indus would reach peak flood stage late this week.
The floods began with hammering monsoon rains in the north-west and have swept southwards.
Many of those cut off are in the mountainous north-west, where roads and bridges have been swept away.
The US has deployed at least 18 helicopters that are flying regular relief missions, but the United Nations said it would need at least 40 more heavy-lift choppers working at full capacity to reach the estimated 800,000 stranded in the country.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that about 700,000 Pakistanis have been forced into makeshift settlements just in the southern province of Sindh.
While there have been no major disease outbreaks because of the floods, aid agencies are increasingly worried, saying contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation were already causing a spike in medical problems in camps for the displaced.
"Pakistan and its people are experiencing the worst natural calamity of its history," Mr Gilani said at a meeting on health issues in the flood zone.
"As human misery continues to mount, we are seriously concerned with spread of epidemic diseases," he added.