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Media Examine Floods’ Impact In Pakistan

News outlets reported on the effects of major flooding in Pakistan and described the situation on the ground.

“The worst floods in Pakistan’s history already have swept through the nation’s most important breadbasket provinces, destroying cotton and corn crops … leaving many people in need of emergency food. Now experts warn that the food crisis could expand into a long-term problem if farmers can’t get the seeds, draft animals and irrigation repairs they need for the fall planting of wheat, the nation’s most important crop,” McClatchy/Miami Herald reports in a story examining the flood’s impact on the country’s food security.  

Sohail Jehangir Malik, a development expert in Pakistan, said the flood is “making the food-insecure areas much more insecure.” The transportation infrastructure that helps food get to markets has also been destroyed, Malik, who now runs a consulting firm in Islamabad, said. He also noted that poor Pakistanis are not able to easily store food. “They are completely vulnerable,” he said. 

“Much of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on irrigation, and it’s not clear how quickly the damaged canal system can be repaired. The floods damaged the irrigation systems extensively in all provinces. … If farmers are unable to plant, a massive loss of food production in 2011 and possibly long-term food shortages could result, Abdul Wajid Rana, the economic minister at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, wrote in an Aug. 20 report,” the news service reports. “Even before the floods, in Pakistan, a nation of 175 million people, 77 million were hungry, 45 million malnourished and 36 percent of the population was below the poverty line, and those figures ‘could appear modest by comparison in several decades’ time,’ according to a new book on Pakistan’s food problems published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars” (Schoof, 8/30).

Pakistani officials “warned that with farmland unlikely to be fit for cultivation for at least six months massive aid was needed to prevent social unrest,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Muhammad Kalwar, director of operations at Sindh province’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said people who have been displaced by the flooding in some areas, might need to stay in relief shelters for months as the water drains. “We are looking at a human catastrophe which will turn into social unrest if these people are not helped immediately,” according to Kalwar. “The affected agricultural lands will not be available for any form of cultivation for the next six months,” he added (Anis, 8/30).

Aid Efforts

The Associated Press/McClatchy/Dallas Morning News writes about flood survivors’ need for aid. “Hordes of people ran after vehicles distributing food and water near the graveyard, a chaotic effort that left many flood survivors – especially the old and infirm – with nothing. Some drank rainwater pooled on the ground. … Authorities said they were trying to provide food and shelter to the hundreds of thousands of people camped on the hill in Makli. But as in other areas of the country, the scale of the disaster has overwhelmed both local capacity and the international partners trying to help,” according to the article (8/31).

Meanwhile recent reports indicating that Pakistani flood survivors are selling food donations because they want cash highlights a debate over whether people who are recovering from a disaster should be given cash rather than food or other aid items. In a story examining the issue, the AP writes that some aid groups “say that giving money to those recovering from disasters or war is often cheaper, more effective and efficient than doling out food or other assistance like housing materials, seeds or agricultural tools. … But some in the humanitarian community remain resistant to the idea, especially those in the larger U.N. agencies, where there are fears that cash can cause inflation and fuel corruption.” The article looks at why some Pakistanis would prefer to receive cash and looks at the findings of a recent World Food Program on the merits of cash vouchers instead of food (Khan/Brummitt, 8/30).

In a story about the U.S. aid effort, TIME reports that it is not changing perceptions of the U.S. on the ground. “Although the U.S.’s massive $200 million relief package and its swift on-the-ground assistance have been warmly welcomed by politicians and the media, many Pakistanis remain suspicious of American motives,” according to the magazine. The article looks at the challenges associated with changing Pakistanis’ attitudes about the U.S. It includes interviews with Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser for the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Brigadier General Michael Nagata, deputy chief of the office of the defense representative to Pakistan who is overseeing U.S. military relief aid (Abouzeid, 8/30).

Health Situation

Reuters reports on flood survivors’ frustrating experience with medical care. “The United Nations has warned of imminent waterborne diseases, including typhoid fever, shigellosis and hepatitis A and E, and vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Some Pakistanis have grown increasingly angry with the sluggish government response, and are turning to Islamist charities, some of them tied to militant groups,” Reuters writes.

“Whatever stock of medicines we have is about to finish and the number of patients will increase in the coming days,” said Ashiq Hussain Malik, medical superintendent of main district hospital in Muzaffargarh. “Nearly 60 percent of patients are suffering from gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, skin and eye infections and the patients who are coming here are in a pretty bad condition,” Malik said (Haider, 8/31).

A recent update from the WHO said that medical needs have been increasing, while 400 of the 1,000 or so hospitals in flooded areas have been destroyed, according to the U.N. News Center. “According to the latest epidemiological data, some 3.7 million people are reported to have received some form of medical treatment between 29 July and 23 August. Of those, 500,000 were cases of acute diarrhoea, 517,000 involved acute respiratory infections, there were 693,000 cases of skin infections and 94,000 suspected cases of malaria. The number of suspected malaria cases is rising in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, compared to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, according to WHO,” according to the article (8/30).