Six months after the worst monsoon floods in 80 years wreaked havoc on Pakistan, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting up to 20 million others, “we are seeing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” according to Kristen Elsby, UNICEF’s chief of communications in Pakistan.
The flooding started on July 28, 2010 in the mountainous north and quickly raged south over the next month, following the path of the Indus River. It submerged one-fifth of the country, left more than 7 million people homeless, and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land. Some of that farmland is still under water, raising concerns about next summer’s harvest.
Oxfam, too, believes the crisis is far from over, and could get worse. As Neva Khan, head of Oxfam’s Pakistan office said during a press conference in Islamabad, “the aid community has done a tremendous amount, but given the immense scale of this disaster, we have only scratched the surface of human need.”
Today, in the flood-ravaged areas of the south, malnutrition rates rival those of sub-Saharan Africa. “I haven’t seen malnutrition this bad since the worst of the famine in Ethiopia, Darfur and Chad,” Karen Allen, deputy head of UNICEF in Pakistan said in a statement.
The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of Pakistani children — particularly in the southeastern Sindh province, the area hardest hit — are suffering from acute malnutrition, almost a quarter of the children in the region.
Shelter is a grave concern, 1.7 million homes were destroyed by the floodwaters, 900,000 of them in Sindh alone. There’s been small progress. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 166,00 people currently live in 240 camps and roadside settlements, down from 3.3 million in October.
The U.N. appealed for approximately $2 billion in aid last September but has only received 56% of it to date. According to the BBC, Pakistan’s government is scheduled to halt most emergency relief efforts this month, but Oxfam is calling on the government to extend its deadline.
As the Guardian points out: “Before the floods the western aid effort in Pakistan focused on the north-west, where an earthquake struck in 2005 and military operations against the Taliban have displaced millions.
After the floods, aid workers admit to being caught offguard by the problem in Sindh. “It was a real wake-up call,” said one.”
The U.N. claims almost 10 million people have received essential medical assistance, and about 7 million are receiving monthly food rations. In addition, an estimated 3.5 million people have access to safe drinking water.
But longer-term recovery will require continuing these services as well as reopening schools and reviving agriculture. “We are helping farmers in recovering their land by providing them with seeds, fertilizers and tools to accelerate the rehabilitation process At the same time the humanitarian community will continue to provide food aid as long as it is needed,” Rauf Engin Soysal, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Assistance to Pakistan said in a statement. Humanitarian aid agencies are working in concert to alleviate the crisis.
The World Food Programme has been providing support to more than 5 million Pakistanis, according to WFP official Carl Paulsson. He says his organization and has enough funding to continue through February, but would then experience shortages unless it received more support.
Save the Children has reached more than 2.6 million flood-affected people through emergency medical care, distribution of shelter materials, food, child protection, education, and livelihoods support.
“It’s going to be a long haul. Twenty million people is more than the population of about 180 countries in the world, ore people affected than Haiti, the [2004 Asian] tsunami, and the  Kashmir earthquake combined,” says Allison Zelkowitz, Deputy Team Leader for Programming for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Program in Pakistan. “It’s really a vast number of people in a very economically challenged country, so it’s going to take a couple of years to really recover to where they were before.”
Photo of Pakistan floods shot on August 15, 2010 courtesy of Jason Tanner