UN Scrambles to Avert Health Crisis in Pakistan

A flood victim from Punjab suffers from acute water diarrhea. The United Nations has built health clinics across Pakistan to help address the outbreak of waterborne diseases and other similar illnesses. Photo by: Syed Haider / WHO

The international community remains engaged in Pakistan as new challenges, as well as new controversies, continue to surface.

The U.N. has put up health clinics across the country to help address the outbreak of waterborne diseases, respiratory infections, malaria and similar illnesses.

“Almost 1,200 mobile health clinics are operating across Pakistan,” Maurizio Giuliano of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said according to CNN. “For many people, this is the only way to receive health care.”

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said the U.K. is also intensifying its aid efforts in Pakistan to help avert a public health crisis. Mitchell said the U.K. will finance production lines in factories in Karachi and Lahore to produce 5,300 water containers and 2,155 hygiene kits per day for the next two weeks, the Daily Times reports.

Overall donor support for the flood relief, however, is slowing down, according to U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.

“After a strong start, funding for the Pakistan flood response seems to have reached a plateau,” Amos said. “New donations have dropped to just USD20 million over the last two weeks. It is both worrying and disappointing that this is happening when the needs continue to rise and the suffering is still so evident. I urge donors to dig deeper – we will need their support for months to come.”

Amos, who recently took over from John Holmes the role of U.N. aid chief, is on a three-day mission in Pakistan where she is meeting with other U.N. officials, Pakistani government authorities and non-governmental organization representatives.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Development Program urged donors and aid groups to begin planning reconstruction activities in communities where water has receded. The international community should adopt a united vision to help Pakistan recover, according to Ajay Chhibber, director of UNDP’s regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

“What is happening in Pakistan is not just about recovery and rehabilitation of life, it is also about restoring hope and building futures,” Chhibber said. “This slow moving disaster needs the international community to wake up and help Pakistan with a new vision to recover. What happens here has regional and global, humanitarian and social implications.”

U.N. goodwill ambassador for refugees Angelina Jolie, who is in Pakistan visiting flood victims, also pushed for long-term and constant assistance for the country.

“It’s an extraordinarily complex situation,” Jolie said according to Reuters. “These are very, very long, extended situations that need our constant support for a very, very long time.”

Reports of discrimination

 A number of flood victims are being turned away from relief camps, primarily due to lack of space. But some victims report that decisions on who receives aid are sometimes influenced by ethnic and religious discrimination.

“We saw several families of gypsies who had reached a camp [be] turned away by other victims and some organizers of the NGO running it. The women were in tears because they had nowhere to go,” one flood victim told IRIN.

Meanwhile, some NGOs have noted that Muslim aid agencies are marginalizing Christian minorities in the relief effort, All Voices says. 

“Some are flatly denied assistance while others are told to vacate the region or convert to Islam. Imagine, giving up your faith in order to feed your starving children–-what a horrible choice. The church in Pakistan needs another way to take care of their families. They’re looking to you and to me,” the president of All Doors USA said as quoted by the news agency.

About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.