Monday, December 6, 2010

Donor fatigue hits Pakistan flood relief

ELEANOR HALL: While much of Eastern Australia is trying to cope with rising floodwaters, in Pakistan millions of people are still dealing with the aftermath of that nation's worst floods in memory.

Great swathes of the south of the country are still under water, preventing the planting of winter crops and the arrival of winter is bringing new health risks. The UN's Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has just visited one of the country's biggest camps for displaced people.

VALERIE AMOS: What strikes me is that a lot has been done. We've managed to feed millions of people, millions of people have access to clean water but the scale of this is what people have to remember. Nearly 20 million people affected. It is a huge number. The world has to sit up and take notice.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the UN's Valerie Amos.

Well, Australia was among the first countries to respond to Pakistan's flood disaster but interest here has since flagged, and donations have dropped.

Connie Lenneberg is the director of policy and programs at World Vision Australia. She told Ben Drew that millions of people across Pakistan remain reliant on emergency assistance and food aid.

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Four months after the floods began we still got something like 17 million people affected and 10 million people dependent every day on emergency support. There is a lack of shelter still, food distributions are still being made and certainly providing winterised shelter is a major issue because we are talking about a country which is very cold up in the northern areas which were severely affected.

BEN DREW: What risks will the colder temperatures pose particularly?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Well, the greatest risks are to the children and particularly children from the poorest families who already began as malnourished and vulnerable before the floods hit and now as they are living outside in tents and in camps, the risks during the winter are absolutely enormous.

One of the major killers around the world of young children under five is actually pneumonia, respiratory illnesses that quickly become pneumonia so they need access to healthcare but also the continuing threats of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections. They are the main things.
BEN DREW: And areas is the south like the Sindh Province are still inundated with water, is there any sense of when those sorts of floodwaters will recede?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: I don't know what the latest projections are but I know when we had floods in 2006, some of those waters were around for 10 months so it is a long time. It is a very flat area. It can be a long time before the waters recede.

And of course, people are not able to re-establish agricultural livelihoods, to plant seeds for the next season so our biggest concern is that this emergency is going to continue for probably at least 12 to 18 months while we wait for waters to recede, help people to go back to their villages and help them re-establish their livelihoods through planting of seeds and raising of crops.

BEN DREW: If people can't plant their winter crops, what effect will that have on food supplies and the requirements for further food aid?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Well, there will be ongoing requirements for food aid as I say, into the next 12 months at least because they have not just lost a standing crop when the floods came, they were unable to plant the winter crops, those seeds would have had to go in in October and at this stage there has also been a massive loss of seed stocks so just availability of seeds to plant is going to be a major issue going forward.

BEN DREW: The head of World Vision Australia Tim Costello said recently that the food security time bomb is ticking in Pakistan. Do you agree with that?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Yes, absolutely.

BEN DREW: What does that mean?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Well, it means even if you think about the floods, the floods that have been happening in Australia are enormous if you think the length of New South Wales now been affected by floods.

But if you transpose those floods into Pakistan, you are looking at an area that runs from Brisbane to Hobart and much more densely settled communities so all of those communities that have been impacted, those 21 million people are not able to plant their fields and that area of Pakistan was really the food bowl of south Punjab and going down into Sindh.

So it was the area that was producing food, cereal crops that were critical to Pakistan's overall food security situation so when those lands are out of production for a long period of time, for 12 to 18 months, it impacts on the whole country.
A reduction in food availability means even for those in areas where there are foods, the prices go up and they get out of the reach of the poorest community.

BEN DREW: Do you think the attention and the effort of Western countries is flagging in Pakistan?

CONNIE LENNEBERG: Oh it absolutely is. You know, if you look at the scale of this flood emergency in Pakistan it even dwarfs the Asian tsunami. In terms of funding it from Australia we've received about $5 million through our public appeal.

If you compare that with Haiti, we received $10 million and $115 million for the Asian tsunami so there really isn't that sort of interest from the Australian community or from international donors generally. There is some support but it is nowhere near the level that is required by the scale of the emergency and the human impact it's having.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Connie Lenneberg from World Vision Australia. She was speaking to Ben Drew.

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