Adam Thomson

British High Commissioner to Pakistan

Part of UK in Pakistan

17th August 2010 Islamabad, Pakistan

An exceptional disaster demands an exceptional response

The devastating floods across Pakistan over the last few weeks are completely heart-breaking.  Our sympathies and prayers go out to the families of those who have died, the families who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and the millions and millions of Pakistanis across the country whose lives have been shaken by this awful  disaster. 

The scale is truly shocking.  To put it in context for British citizens who may want to help, an area the size of England is affected.  Millions of people, equivalent to the total population of Scotland, have been displaced. The United Nations estimates that 875,000 buldings have been damaged. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gilani says 20 million people in all have been affected – one third of the population of the entire United Kingdom.  Homes, farmland, food supplies, livelihoods and infrastructure have been destroyed.  Food and fuel prices are rising dramatically.  There is a huge challenge to provide access to safe drinking water, shelter, food and good sanitation to the millions affected.

And all this in a country where already a third of the population are below the poverty line, which is suffering worse from terrorism than almost any country in the world and where nearly 150,000 troops are fighting militants in Pakistan’s longest ever war.  No country does well in responding to massive natural disasters.  Given its capacities, Pakistan is not doing so badly.  The main political parties have come together to form a transparent fund raising and spending mechanism.  The Government has frozen non-flood development spending and is looking at new taxes to raise revenue.  The Army has swung into action.  The National Disaster Management Authority is headed by the man who led the response to the 2005 earthquake.  The country is not pretending that it can cope on its own.

A massive relief effort is underway.  The UK’s Department for International Development has been leading the British response. UK aid announced so far will provide help for around one and a half million people in Pakistan affected by the floods. The UK Government has earmarked up to £31.3 million in response to the UN Pakistan appeal, with £16.8 million so far allocated. In addition, a £10 million bridge project has been brought forward.  The emerging needs assessments on the ground will inform how the further resources are used.

It’s already clear that the international community needs to do much more to ramp up its efforts and its contributions.  United Nations aid agencies and their partners have requested almost $460 million to help Pakistan  with immediate relief for the assist millions of people affected by floods. The UN estimate that hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed for reconstruction efforts. UK Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, has already called for the international community to respond generously to the UN appeal, saying “the scale of this disaster demands a major international effort.  I urge other countries to come forward to help the Pakistani people in their hour of need”.

The British public are responding.  £15 million has been raised through generous donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal.   DEC’s member agencies have now distributed aid to more than 500,000 people affected.  But Pakistan’s disaster is still unfolding and will almost certainly deepen.   You too can donate to the appeal via the DEC website here

I beg you to do so.