Floodwaters have crested in Pakistan, and the deluge is slowly draining into the Arabian Sea. Left behind is unprecedented devastation and a country facing its worst disaster in more than 30 years. "The scale and the scope of this natural disaster is astronomical," said US Agency for International Development, or USAID, Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. He recently visited Pakistan to consult with government officials and relief organizations on expanding and improving flood relief efforts, and got a first-hand look at the devastation.
Last month, torrential monsoon rains triggered massive floods that have moved steadily from the mountains in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south, killing over 1,600 people and affecting another 17 million.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said that the disaster had affected over 8.5 million children: "In many ways it is a children's emergency. There is also a potential second wave of death from waterborne diseases. This is likely to get much worse if we can't reach people with clean water, adequate nutrition, sanitation and vaccination," he said.
Their future, and the future of Pakistan, depends, in many respects, on the extent and success of the recovery effort. The floodwaters covered about 20 percent of the country, much of it agricultural land. Some 5,600 acres of Pakistan’s crop land has been damaged. As it is, even if they return home in time for planting season, farmers say there will be no harvest next year, not only because the fields are water-logged, but also because the floods ruined their seed stock.
The United Nations warns that, without the proper aid and equipment, Pakistan's livestock and agriculture yields will remain stunted until at least 2012.
"This is a core global humanitarian imperative and we need more international support," said Dr. Rajiv Shah of USAID.
As Dr. Shah announced on August 25, the U.S. is providing another $50 million to support early flood recovery programs. This brings the total amount of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Pakistan to more than $200 million.
But much more is needed, especially from international donors. As Dr. Shah said, "When you look at the scope of what needs to be done here ... we need more resources and support from inside Pakistan and outside Pakistan in order to be successful."