KARACHI: A senior official of the US government’s aid and development agen­­cy, assisting Pakistan in its flood relief efforts, has said that while their priority was to provide food and shelter, they have realised the importance of the need for health support following such natural disasters.

“We recognise that what follows a calamity of this magnitude is often waterborne disease. So some of the $30 million that we annou­nced is also going to our partners on the ground who provide health supp­o­­rt,” pointed out US Agency for International Deve­lop­ment (USAID) Adminis­tra­tor Samantha Power, after arriving in Pakistan early on Thursday to assess the extent of damage caused by the unrelenting rains and flash floods.

In an exclusive interview with Dawn before leaving for the flood-hit areas of Sindh, Ms Power spoke about how her agency could help the flood-hit zones further. “We are already getting repo­rts of cholera, dengue. It can get a lot worse. As long as there is water, there are health risks associated with it.”

SAMANTHA Power
SAMANTHA Power

“We have already annou­nced $30 million in assistance. And we know this is not nearly enough given the scale of the damage, so part of what I am doing as well is seeing what more we can do,” she explained.

USAID official says working with Department of Defence to deliver ‘humanitarian commodities’

On Aug 30, the US annou­nced an additional $30m in humanitarian assistance to support the people af­­fected by floods resulting from he­­avy monsoon rains, as well as landslides and glacial lake outbursts since mid-June. This is in addition to the over $1.1m Washington has provided in grants and project support.

“Now the core challenge here is that the crops have been submerged at the worst possible time following food shortage and spiraling prices. I also understand that many farmers here have incurred debt as they had planted and secured fertiliser… and just around the time they were looking to harvest their crops, they had to flee for their lives,” she bemoaned.

The USAID administrator also shared they had a permanent presence in Pakistan due to which they had a fair idea of the devastation caused by the floods.

Earlier this week, the DART was deployed by the US to lead Wash­i­n­gton’s response efforts in the flood-affected regions of Pakistan. This team comprising disaster experts assessed the damage, identified priority needs, and coordinated closely with Islamabad and humanitarian partners to ensure effective and efficient assistance delivery.

Ms Power further said the team told them that over 70,000 women were to give birth over the next month without adequate medical support.

“There is no substitute for travelling to the affected regions and talking to the displaced families and hearing from them what their plans are in terms of when they go back,” she said about her visit to Pakistan that spanned a few days.

She also said the aid agency was working with the US Department of Defense (DoD) for relief work.

“One of the things that you will see soon, I hope, will be our military’s involvement in delivering humanitarian commodities on the ground,” she said. Elaborating, she said there should be no confusion that it was a civilian operation.

Earlier this week, Gen Michael Kurilla, commander of the US Centcom, spoke to army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and expressed condolences over the catastrophic floods. Centcom then sent an assessment team to Islamabad to determine the potential support the DoD could provide to USAID in assisting the crisis in Pakistan.

“We provide financial assistance to purchase shelter, supplies, food, etc. We are working with the World Food Programme to procure food locally. But the DoD has unique capabilities and unique experience in disaster response. In the coming days, you will see the [department] use its unique capabilities to transport commodities from USAID’s warehouse in Dubai to the affected communities on the ground here,” she explained.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022

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