Pakistan food aid operations struggle with massive funding shortfall

Published on 21 October 2005

Funding shortfall as relief operations in Pakistan continue. WFP says that with fast action from donors, unnecessary deaths and suffering could be avoided among earthquake victims.

Though more relief supplies are moving into the earthquake-stricken areas of Pakistan, WFP is urging donors to act even faster to avoid more suffering and unnecessary death among the hundreds of thousands of people who survived Pakistan's worst natural disaster.

WFP expressed alarm because it has received only 10 percent of the US$ 56 million requested for food to assist nearly one million people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and northern Pakistan, where almost 50,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands made homeless.

Logistics challenge

In addition, funding against WFP’s initial appeal for logistics operations - which does not take into account the emerging, massive food delivery challenges ahead - remains low.

WFP is now preparing to drastically increase its emergency transport capacity - for example, adding more aircraft, helicopters, 4 x 4 trucks and snowplows. WFP hopes to receive two helicopters to distribute relief supplies from UNHAS, the UN’s air service, in two or three days.

This is perhaps the greatest logistics challenge the relief community has ever faced.

Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for Middle East

“This is perhaps the greatest logistics challenge the relief community has ever faced,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe,. “Our logistics experts are gravely concerned at the task ahead, and are urging a large-scale international response, including heightened military assistance.”

Against WFP’s initial special logistics appeal to provide 12 helicopters and food airlifts to remote areas, the agency has received only one-third of its US$ 24 million requirement. Logistics support is crucial to the pre-positioning of relief supplies before the winter snowfall blocks roads.

Road construction crews are urgently needed to clear landslides that continue because of tremors and tree loss on hillsides. In some areas, dynamite is being used to clear blockages on roads. Also, WFP is introducing smaller vehicles - 4x4 wheel drives and mini-trucks – to complement the standard-size delivery trucks.

Signs of hope

The UN’s food aid agency stressed that while huge challenges remain to deliver assistance to thousands of needy people, the situation is not without hope.

"It is within our means to improve the situation of the people stranded up there in the mountains," said Abdulla. "We have the experience and the staff to do it, but we badly need a faster and more vigorous donor response to pay for food and its delivery.”

It is within our means to improve the situation of the people stranded in the mountains.

Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for Middle East

In addition to donations received so far, he added: “We have some promising indications of further support, but these must materialize very soon and preferably in cash.”

"Every day, we get more information about places where aid is urgently needed," said WFP Emergency Coordinator in Pakistan, Michael Jones. "We can respond quickly by buying wheat locally or regionally, where prices are fair, but we need donors to rapidly come up with the cash.”

Desperate evacuees

Thousands of people continue to flee their remote and hard-to-reach villages in Pakistan-administered Kashmir seeking medical attention, food and water.

As landslides and bad weather hamper the movement of aid workers, WFP and other aid agencies are preparing for the survivors who opt to descend into the valleys instead of waiting in devastated villages.

A WFP team that recently arrived to deliver food aid to the Neelum Valley – one of the hardest hit and most remote areas - said that hundreds of men, women and children could be seen coming down treacherous mountain paths towards Muzzafarabad in search of food and shelter.

While some survivors relocate to towns, others want to bring supplies back to their villages. Large numbers of houses have been destroyed and need to be rebuilt if people are to be protected from the winter elements.

Obstacles

Many desperate people, among them unknown numbers of injured, remain in the mountains, survivors say. Estimates indicate that up to 500,000 needy people may not have been assisted yet due to their remote locations, appalling weather conditions and landslides.

World Health Organisation doctors have told WFP that nearly two weeks after the earthquake, significant numbers of injured people are still being discovered in remote mountain villages.

Despite the obstacles, WFP relief is reaching more and more people, as an increasing number of aircraft and helicopters arrive to help ferry high energy biscuits and other commodities to the hardest-hit communities, joined by a growing number of truck convoys needed to help transport food supplies. WFP is also assisting with the set up of base camps in critical zones.

Ongoing assessment

While rushing in aid supplies, WFP and other aid agencies are assessing the exact needs of the population which they have managed to reach. The findings may affect future aid requirements.

Donors who have provided to the WFP Pakistan earthquake operation so far are: Canada ($4.8 million), the USA ($3.8 million); Saudi Arabia ($3.3 million); Japan ($2.5 million); Switzerland ($500,000); Iceland ($75,000) and Faroe Islands ($16,000).