Aid scrums hard on weakest

At a relief camp near the southern Punjab city of Multan, two boys, not yet in their teens, share a small plate of rice. “This is the first time we have eaten in over a day,” Shahid Muhammad, 12, told IRIN. He has been looking after his younger brother, Inamullah, 10, since the two were separated from their parents and two sisters three days ago.

“We were loaded into a truck along with many others. The rest of our family ended up in another vehicle. We don’t know where they are,” said Shahid who was being helped by some adults from his village.

“When food is distributed the strongest young men grab it for their own families and push us children aside,” Shahid said.

The chaotic evacuation of towns and villages in flood affected areas means some vulnerable people have become separated from male family members, putting them at a disadvantage: The elderly, women and children are often unable to reach the bags or parcels being distributed, especially when mobs besiege the aid trucks.

“It's these vulnerable groups that we need to pay attention to,” said Shahnawaz Khan, disaster risk reduction coordinator for the NGO Plan Pakistan.

Aid organizations have already expressed concern over incidents in which convoys attempting to hand out food have been attacked.

A 16 August report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said looting of aid supplies has been alleged in Muzaffargarh in the southwestern part of Punjab Province, one of the worst-hit of the province’s 36 districts.

“My husband suffers a heart condition. He cannot run after the trucks and I am pushed aside when I try too,” said Aziza Bibi, 35, who has struggled to get food for her family of four.

A Muzaffargarh District administration official who asked not to be named said: “We have hordes of starving people. Things are desperate. There is insufficient aid and people who are weak and vulnerable, including women, are naturally worst affected.”

''We try to be equitable when aid is distributed but the situation is so chaotic that it is hard''

The OCHA report said the growing number of diarrhoea cases pointed to a clear risk of malnutrition among the affected population, especially children and pregnant and lactating women.

Equitable distribution

“We try to be equitable when aid is distributed but the situation is so chaotic that it is hard,” said Badr Uddin of the Edhi Foundation, a local charity, speaking to IRIN from Karachi.

Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN: “With us distribution is not a haphazard process and those who receive food are informed a day in advance - on the basis of their selection as vulnerable families - to ensure peaceful and orderly distribution. Families headed by females are dealt with separately by female social mobilizers at distribution points.”

It is estimated that up to six million flood-affected people are in need of food assistance over the next three months, though this number may yet rise, as the situation in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan continues to deteriorate, OCHA’s report said.

Photo: Tariq Saeed/IRIN
Children selling food in Punjab

WFP expects its food distributions to have reached one million people with a one-month food ration on 17 August, WFP said in a news release on the same day. The Red Crescent Society, government, local authorities, businesses and private individuals are all part of the effort to fill the food gap, according to WFP.

The UN Secretary-General, following a visit to Pakistan, has called for stepped up international aid to help cope with a crisis described as the worst in the world today.

Khair Muhammad Kalhoro, director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in Sindh, told IRIN: “We need all the help we can get to help people.”

Daniel Toole, regional director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), warned at a news conference in Islamabad on 17 August, that "up to 3.5 million children could be in danger of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects as a result of floods… In a country which has endemic watery diarrhoea, endemic cholera, endemic upper respiratory infections we now have the conditions for expanded problems."