Swiss aid organisations have been handing out emergency aid in Pakistan where severe flooding has affected around 3.2 million people and killed at least 1,400.
The United Nations says 1.8 million people are in dire need of water, food and shelter after the heaviest monsoon rains in 80 years. Northwestern Pakistan has been the hardest-hit.
More rain is forecast in the coming days in the northwest and in southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Washed out bridges and roads have made it difficult for rescue workers to deliver aid coming from foreign countries, aid groups and the UN.
“It is a tragic disaster which is affecting a population that already lives in difficult conditions,” Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Georg Farago told swissinfo.ch on Tuesday.
He said that Switzerland was handing out food and water preparation tablets for around 12,000 people as part of emergency aid. Assessments are being made as to whether aid should be increased.
However, by midday Swiss time the Pakistani government had not issued a formal call for aid, he added.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation already has projects in the flood-hit area. It has been calling for years for efficient and cheap protection measures against flooding, such as dams with gates.
Andreas Huber, the agency’s country director, was visiting one such project when the floods started last week.
“We could see on the spot what these projects can really do. The villages that were protected by those dams were much less affected. Nevertheless we saw the floods coming and we were able to start with the first emergency relief immediately,” he said.
He said the situation was serious, with inland roads inaccessible and aid not reaching many people.
“The next steps will be recovery, but I think it is too early still. We have to wait for the rain to stop indefinitely. We have to see the overall damage, it is not clear yet.”
Whole areas destroyed
Aid organisations say that the situation on the ground is likely to become more serious because more rain is expected.
Children are particularly affected, said Unicef Switzerland’s spokeswoman Alexandra Rosetti.
“This is because they are small and malnourished and they very desperately need food, clean drinking water, health supplies,” she told swissinfo.ch.
There are reports that it is difficult for aid to get through, she added.
“The roads have been submerged, the bridges have been swept away, power lines are down and of course damage has been done to hospitals, schools, sanitation systems. So the situation is very bad as in some cases whole districts of the area are destroyed.”
Unicef has launched an appeal for more than $10 million (SFr10.4 million) for the immediate needs of the affected population.
Switzerland’s humanitarian organisations have pledged both financial and material aid.
Caritas Switzerland has contributed immediate help in the sum of SFr200,000 ($193,000). It will be used in the districts of Barkhan and Kohlu in Belutschistan, as well as in the Swat valley.
The Swiss Red Cross has promised another SFr100,000, plus enough necessity kits for 550 families. The kits contain toiletries, basic kitchenware, blankets, a mosquito net and school supplies.
Meanwhile, the Swiss branch of the Salvation Army has provided SFr30,000 in immediate aid and is collecting additional funds to help the victims.
Swiss Interchurch Aid is distributing aid amounting to at least SFr200,000. Spokesman Asad Dogar, who is responsible for Pakistan for the charity, told swissinfo.ch that he and his team, who know the area from working with internally displaced people, would be undertaking surveys of the most affected areas from Wednesday to assess immediate and longer-term needs.
Dogar said that although Pakistan has certain areas that are susceptible to floods every year, the severity of the heavy rains in an area not normally prone to flooding had caught many people out. “People were unprepared. They were in their homes and did not expect the heavy floods to come.”
The Pakistani army is delivering food, medicine and tents, as are government agencies, political parties and welfare organisations.
Many of the victims say that there were no official flood warnings. This has triggered criticism directed at the government. The army has rejected criticism that it was slow to respond.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a preliminary international appeal for SFr17 million in support of emergency relief activities undertaken by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
“As well as increasing distributions of food and shelter materials, the Red Crescent is working to reduce the public health risks posed by the flooding. Providing clean water and sanitation is an absolute priority if we are to avert a public health disaster,” said Ateeb Siddiqui, Pakistan Red Crescent Society operations director, in a statement.
He said that the next week was critical, noting that more heavy rain could cause the flooding to spread further south.
Isobel Leybold-Johnson and Susan Vogel-Misicka, swissinfo.ch
Help from abroad
Foreign countries, aid groups and the United Nations have promised or are delivering aid.
The UN pledged $10 million to help Pakistan deal with the disaster and have provided
The World Food Programme said it had delivered food to 40,000 people and is aiming to reach 250,000 people by the end of the week.
The US is providing $10 million in emergency aid. It has also provided military helicopters, rescue boats, water-filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals.
The European Union will donate €30 million.
China will donate 10 million yuan.
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
Switzerland’s development cooperation with Pakistan began in 1966 and has focused on alleviating poverty and supporting disadvantaged population groups.
The agency provided extensive humanitarian assistance in the North West Frontier Province after the 2005 earthquake. It also supports measures to improve the living conditions of refugees and internally displaced persons.
In 2008, the government decided to reduce the number of agency priority countries and Pakistan will no longer be categorised as such by the end of 2011. The current development programme will be closed progressively but some components will come under a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Programme, for which a yearly budget of approximately SFr5 million has been approved for the Pakistan-North West Frontier Province component.
The total Swiss government bilateral commitment for Pakistan for 2010 is planned at SFr17.4 million.
(Source: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)