What I saw in Pakistan, and why the world must help
The flooding in Pakistan was an unavoidable natural disaster. The measures we take now will decide if we can avoid an ongoing humanitarian disaster.
Last Thursday I visited Pakistan to inspect the flood damage and the Australian response in Kot Addu, near Multan in the Southern Punjab.
The UN High-Level Meeting on Pakistan today met to discuss the adequacy, or inadequacy, of the international response. This meeting has one challenge – to prevent a natural disaster becoming a humanitarian calamity that could have been avoided.
Even if you are well aware of the facts in Pakistan, the figures are still confronting:
- 21 million people affected (more than all those affected by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake of 2005 and the Haiti earthquake combined)
- 10 million people without shelter, and
- 6 million people dependent on emergency food supplies.
One month after these floods, the damage to crops, homes, roads and the natural environment takes your breath away.
The potential for large scale loss of human life, if water-borne diseases now take off, is frightening.
One field that is high and dry is the soccer field in Kot Addu ‘Camp Cockatoo’; The Australian Medical Task Force facility. Green tents in every direction are filled with military, medical and AusAid staff busy delivering emergency medical aid to thousands of locals.
I went there with Peter Baxter, the Director General of AusAid, to thank nearly 200 Aussies in the business of saving lives each and every day.
I was handed a prescription pack by one of the medical staff. It was empty. They have run out of a new malaria drug Artemisinin that has helped treat many patients with cerebral malaria which is potentially lethal for adults and particularly dangerous for kids. More supplies of this vital drug are on the way to Camp Cockatoo.
Along with the new supplies of Artemisinin, $40 million in additional funds will also provide both immediate relief and support, and longer term help with reconstruction in the Pubjab and other affected areas.
Australia’s efforts are not about being near the top of some league table of do-gooders. We do, however, want to provide leadership for other countries to follow. The rest of the world has to chip in.
Australia’s non-government organisations, like so many humanitarian disasters in the past, have been at the forefront of the response in Pakistan; organisations like World Vision, Care Australia, Caritas and Save the Children.
But the task is still enormous.
Of the new $40 million of Australian Government funding, $9 million will go directly to non-government agencies in the field. They are often the best, with their extended international networks, at getting the aid out and making a difference with speed. And this money starts flowing now.
Apart from basic humanitarian need, and doing the right thing by other members of the human family who have been hit by a disaster, we also have big interests at stake in Pakistan.
Australia needs a stable Pakistan; Pakistan is key to our anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
What we achieve as governments, as Australians, as compassionate people, in providing an appropriate response will be judged by history.
What is not in question is what has already been achieved by the efforts of our Australian NGOs, volunteers, medical staff and armed forces. All these good people in the field are doing us proud. They are the best ambassadors for Australia.
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