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Anti-UN protests spread as Haitians die without aid

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Residential district

Residential District

By Bill Van Auken
20 November 2010

Protests against United Nations troops spread to the capital of Port-au-Prince Thursday as growing numbers of Haitians were dying of cholera in the absence of significant aid from the UN or other relief agencies.

The latest report from the Haitian government has put the number of deaths from cholera at 1,180 and the number of people who have sought treatment at some 20,000. The figures, which do not include the increasing number of people dying in the streets and in their homes without ever receiving treatment, considerably underestimate the real toll.

Large numbers of protesters took to the streets of the capital on Thursday in demonstrations demanding the withdrawal of the UN occupation force, known as MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), which many Haitians blame for bringing cholera into the country.

There were several clashes between the protesters and the UN troops, including one in which a patrol was attacked with a barrage of stones. Police and protesters faced off near the National Palace, Radio Metropole reported, with the police using tear gas to disperse the demonstration. Instances in which vehicles operated by foreign aid workers were attacked with rocks were also reported.

In several parts of the city, demonstrators erected barricades made of burning tires and tore down campaign posters for the Unity party of President René Preval and his hand-picked successor, Jude Celestin. Elections are scheduled for November 28.

The unrest in the capital followed three days of rioting in the northern port city of Cap Haitien, in which at least two people were killed, one shot in the back by UN troops, and a number of others wounded.

The immediate trigger for the upheavals is the growing conviction that cholera was introduced into Haiti by a battalion of UN troops brought from Nepal shortly before the first cases were reported. The Nepalese troops were based on the Artibonite River, whose contaminated waters have been determined as the source of the outbreak. It was also revealed that faulty sanitary facilities at the base were dumping sewage into the river.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US have determined that the strain of cholera—a disease that had not been reported in Haiti for nearly a century—originated in south Asia. Nepal has been struck with its own epidemic of the disease.

UN officials have dismissed accusations that the Nepalese unit brought the disease into the country, claiming that none of the troops tested positive for cholera.

On Thursday, however, Nigel Fisher, the United Nations coordinator of humanitarian affairs in Haiti, revealed to Canada’s CBC news that a French epidemiologist had conducted a study that directly tied the cholera strain in Haiti to Nepal.

Whatever the precise source of the cholera bacteria, the reality is that millions of Haitians have been left defenseless in the face of the disease because of a long legacy of economic exploitation and political oppression linked to the Caribbean nation’s domination by US capitalism.

The vast majority of the population lacked access to clean water and adequate sanitation even before the devastating earthquake last January that killed a quarter of a million people and left a million and a half more people homeless, creating ideal conditions for the disease’s spread.

UN officials have denounced the protests, charging that they have been orchestrated by “enemies of stability and democracy” for the purpose of destabilizing the country in advance of next week’s election.

Large sections of the Haitian population are hostile to both the UN troops and the elections. The so-called “peace-keepers” are widely seen as an occupying army whose purpose is to suppress popular unrest and defend the interests of Haiti’s ruling elite and foreign capital. The UN force was brought into the country in 2004 to relieve US Marines who invaded Haiti after a US-orchestrated coup that ended in the overthrow and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Fanmi Lavalas, the party that backs Aristide and the only political organization in the country with a genuine popular base of support, is barred from running in the current election, as it has been in every vote since the US-backed coup.

UN officials and aid groups have warned that the growing popular upheavals are making it more difficult to provide treatment and prevention against cholera.

“Despite the urgent appeals of the humanitarian community, roads, airports and bridges are still blocked, barricades were still erected in the area of Cap-Haitien, one of the regions most affected by the spread of cholera,” Edmond Mulet, special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations in Haiti, said in a statement Thursday. “If this situation continues, more and more desperate patients awaiting care are at risk of dying; more and more Haitians in desperate need of access to preventive care may fall victim to the epidemic.”

This message was echoed by the director of the Pan-American Health Organization, Mirta Roses. “The situation of violence and insecurity now threatens to severely limit our success,” she said. “We understand the frustration of many Haitians because of the tragic situation that has developed, but emergency medical personnel is equally important to save lives as the rescue teams were after the earthquake.”

Aid organizations and even elements of the UN itself, however, have increasingly denounced the failure of the UN and the major powers to provide anywhere near the aid that is needed to confront the combined calamities of the earthquake’s devastation and the cholera outbreak.

Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told the Reuters news agency that only $5 million of the $164 million for which the UN had issued an emergency appeal to fight the cholera epidemic has been forthcoming.

“The response is completely inadequate and in this situation where we are against the clock we urgently need support if we are going to save lives,” said Wall. “We don’t have what we need to do it. … Cholera is a race against time. If we can get to people, and if we have what we need, we should be saving lives.”

The OCHA spokeswoman said that the outbreak of cholera, coming on top of the crisis confronting some 1.3 million Haitians living under tents and tarps since the January earthquake, have stretched the agency to the breaking point.

“Basically, we are running two emergencies,” said Wall. “We cannot neglect the earthquake survivors because we have cholera.”

The aid group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a similar statement on Friday. “Critical shortfalls in the deployment of well established measures to contain cholera epidemics are undermining efforts to stem the ongoing cholera outbreak in Haiti,” warned the agency, which has set up more than 20 cholera treatment facilities throughout Port-au-Prince, in the Artibonite region, and in the north of Haiti.

“Despite the huge presence of international organizations in Haiti, the cholera response has to date been inadequate in meeting the needs of the population,” the organization said.

Stefano Zannini, MSF head of mission in Haiti, added, “More actors are needed to treat the sick and implement preventative actions, especially as cases increase dramatically across the country. There is no time left for meetings and debate—the time for action is now.”

MSF facilities have been increasingly overrun with Haitians seeking treatment for cholera. The number of people seeking treatment at centers run or supported by the aid group rose from 350 for the week ending November 7 to 2,250 cases for the week ending November 14.

The failure of the UN, Washington and the other major powers to provide adequate aid to halt the deadly spread of the cholera epidemic in Haiti compounds the criminal neglect of the country in the aftermath of January’s 7.0 earthquake.

Despite the outpouring of sympathy and donations from millions of ordinary people, more than 10 months after the quake, next to nothing has been done to rebuild Haiti and provide the kind of basic infrastructure that could have protected its people from cholera and other deadly diseases.

As of September, only 15 percent of the aid promised to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake had reached the country. Washington, which bears the greatest historic responsibility for the dire conditions in Haiti, has yet to disburse one penny of the $1.5 billion that it pledged.

A survey conducted by several advocacy groups eight months after the earthquake found that virtually no one made homeless by the disaster has been moved to new, permanent housing. Among the atrocious conditions prevailing in the tent camps is a lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation, creating conditions for cholera to claim many more victims.

The study found that “potable water was only available to residents who could pay for it.” As a result, “44 percent of families primarily drank untreated water.” It also found that only 69 percent of people in the camps had access to latrines or pit toilets, and that these were overcrowded, unsafe and unclean, posing a threat of infection.

Aid officials acknowledge that given these conditions, cholera will plague Haiti for a long time to come. “The epidemic is not going to go away,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher. “It is almost impossible to stop.”

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DJIBOUTI: Drought appeal for 120,000 vulnerable pastoralists

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment


Photo: IRIN
Tens of thousands of pastoralists in Djibouti need food and nutrition assistance, says the UN (file photo)

NAIROBI, 12 November 2010 (IRIN) – A “forgotten emergency” has left tens of thousands of pastoralists in Djibouti needing food and nutrition assistance as well as longer-term coping mechanisms, according to the UN.

The tiny Horn of Africa state is the subject of a US$38.9 million appeal for food aid ($16.2 million), agriculture and livestock ($6.5 million), health and nutrition ($7.4 million), water and sanitation ($2.4 million), and emergency preparedness and sanitation ($6.4 million).

Pastoralists and other rural dwellers have been particularly affected by successive years of drought since 2005, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Water reserves have been depleted, there has been a massive loss of livestock, and as a direct result many people are facing the destruction of their livelihoods and lost sources of income,” the agency said. “Increasing numbers of pastoralists have had to give up their traditional activities and are settling in urban areas.”

Djibouti’s food security situation is likely to further deteriorate due to the effects of La Niña events, expected to result in drier–than–normal conditions during the October–December rainy season, according to OCHA.

The country is also affected by the worsening violence and insecurity in neighbouring Somalia, OCHA said, with Djibouti hosting a refugee population of 14,500.

Launching the appeal in Geneva earlier this month, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said, “Due to high food prices and reduced purchasing power, too many people are unable to feed their families.

“While this appeal will help meet immediate humanitarian needs, like food and nutrition, it is important that we also address the root causes of recurrent food crises and improve the country’s capacity to respond to these emergencies,” she said.

Djibouti is considered a least developed low-income food deficit country and was ranked 147th out of 169 countries in the 2010 UN Human Development Index.

In an effort to mitigate the effects of drought, Djibouti abolished tax on food and some agricultural inputs and promoted the cultivation of unused arable land, according to Mohamed Siad Doualeh, the country’s ambassador to the UN.

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Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Health & Nutrition, (PLUSNEWS) Natural Disasters 

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations] 

 

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As Cholera Spreads, Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Camps

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Cité Soleil is one of the poorest areas in Por...

Cité Soleil is one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince.

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by: Ansel Herz  |  Inter Press Service | Report

Leogane, Haiti – Standing on a raised piece of pavement across from the makeshift home where she has lived for the past 10 months, Violet Nicola threw up her hands.

“Our houses are broken again. I’ve lost my things. They don’t do anything for us. We never see them,” she said, referring to aid groups. “Since the water has come in here, we’re mired in more problems.”

Below her feet, thigh-high muddy brown water extended in every direction along the downtown’s main street on Friday. The floodwaters seeped inside Nicola’s tarp-covered shelter, washing away her belongings.

Hurricane Tomas left Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince relatively unscathed. Leogane, some 29 kilometres west and at the epicentre of January’s earthquake, was drenched in rain.

The humanitarian group Save the Children says at least 35,000 people in Leogane may have been affected by flooding. Sewage and trash carried by moving water “will make conditions even more conducive to deadly cholera bacteria,” the group said in a press release.

The death toll from a three-week-old cholera epidemic has risen to at least 501, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health.

The Haiti Epidemic Advisory System, an independent biosurveillance network, reported new suspected outbreaks of cholera in towns across Haiti’s central region on Saturday.

The peak of the cholera epidemic will come “earlier and faster” because of Hurricane Tomas, Christian Lindmeier, a World Health Organisation press officer, told IPS.

A report from the Ministry of Health says nearly half of the victims died in their communities, not in hospitals. “The challenge is getting to them in time for the mortality rate not to rise too much,” Lindmeier said.

Reached by IPS on Saturday evening, many humanitarian organisations said they spent the day conducting surveys of the destruction wrought by Tomas, not distributing relief to those displaced from their dwellings.

The USS Iwo Jima, a warship turned floating hospital touted as a centrepiece of the U.S. response to the storm, is anchored near Haiti.

The ship’s only response so far, at the request of the Haitian government, has been to conduct aerial damage assessments, according to its public information officer. “I don’t have any of the feedback yet,” officer Jacqui Barker said. “There is no intel right now.”

In Grand Goave to Port-au-Prince’s west, 189 shelters in seven different camps were damaged. Pinchinat camp in Jacmel, to the south, was torn apart by torrential rains, according to an internal summary of damage assessments by the shelter-oriented cluster of aid groups.

“There is currently no humanitarian response planned for this camp,” the document says.

“Tents were down all over the place. It was pouring down rain and everyone was drenched. Shelters had been set up, but there was no one providing transportation to these shelters,” local resident Gwenn Mangine wrote in a post on Facebook.

Aid workers told IPS that in Cite Soleil, an oceanside slum on Port-au-Prince’s northern edge, trash-filled canals overflowed into at least one camp. No one has received aid yet, they said.

Across Haiti, “Almost no shelter materials have been distributed. IOM is still conducting assessments,” Leonard Doyle, press officer for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IPS.

The day before Tomas passed Haiti, aid workers planned for some earthquake victims in low-lying areas like Cite Soleil to be evacuated from their camps.

Mackendy Laguerre, a member of IOM’s Cite Soleil camp management team, said two Cite Soleil camp communities would be moved into a church, if they consented.

As ominous dark clouds swirled overhead, Laguerre pointed to the church across the street. The ramshackle structure appeared to be constructed of tacked-together metal sheets. It was marked with red paint by an engineering team after the earthquake, marking it as structurally unsound and prone to collapse.

The residents of the two nearby camps, Cozbami and Immaculee, refused to evacuate. Rosemond Joseph said people in his camp were afraid their belongings would be stolen if they left.

One woman told IPS, “We’re going to die.” Fortunately, Cite Soleil was not as hard hit as feared.

After a one-day storm blasted through Port-au-Prince on Sep. 24, aid workers did not commence distributions of tents and tarps to over 10,000 families whose shelters were destroyed until an additional day had passed. Those families spent two nights in a row under the stars or huddled with friends and family.

The shelter cluster of humanitarian groups – charged with keeping solid cover over the heads of 1.3 million people still living in makeshift camps – circulated a document entitled “Lessons learnt”.

It called for a “system in place to ensure there are sufficient replacement and contingency stocks of shelter materials available in country.” At that point, miraculously, Haiti had been spared another crisis despite a highly active hurricane season.

Over one month later, as Hurricane Tomas approached, the United Nations made a desperate appeal for shelter materials, citing a shortage of 150,000 tarpaulins. “We need emergency shelter. We need water and sanitation supplies. And we need as much of it as possible in place before Hurricane Tomas hits,” said Nigel Fisher, the top U.N. official in Haiti.

“We were depleted by the storm on the 24th and it takes a while to build the stocks,” U.N. spokesperson Imogen Wall told IPS.

She pointed to the need to constantly re-supply camps with new shelter material, adding, “If you have tarpaulins, it doesn’t make sense to leave tarps in warehouses.”

Wall said hurricane shelter capacity is “very limited”. She referred to some hurricane shelters in Leogane, but shelter cluster documents say they were empty during and after Tomas.

“It doesn’t make sense in a country this poor to put up single-purpose structures,” she said.

A Nov. 5 shelter cluster document outlining its response to Tomas says 100,000 families were potentially affected by the storm, with current stocks estimated to cover just 64 percent of them. It notes that 20,000 additional tarps are stuck in Haitian customs.

Officials say neither the cholera outbreak nor flooding from Tomas will have any impact on planning for the upcoming Nov. 28 election.

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Haiti dodges storm disaster, cholera toll rises

November 7, 2010 1 comment

Rolling In

Rolling In

07 Nov 2010 00:55:44 GMT
Source: Reuters
* Hurricane Tomas causes floods, eight people killed * Aid workers fear floods could worsen cholera epidemic * Death toll from cholera outbreak tops 500 (Updates storm and cholera tolls, adds details, quotes) By Matthew Bigg PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 6 (Reuters) – Earthquake-hit Haiti escaped a fresh disaster threatened by Hurricane Tomas, but the storm caused flooding that killed eight people and increased the contagion threat from a deadly cholera epidemic, the government and aid workers said on Saturday.
Amid widespread relief that the hurricane largely spared crowded camps in the Haitian capital housing 1.3 million quake survivors, the international humanitarian operation was turning its attention back to the two-week-old epidemic, which has killed just over 500 people and sickened more than 7,000. “We do expect the infection rate to jump up due to the flooding and to the bad sanitation conditions in many areas,” Christian Lindmeier, spokesman in Haiti for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, told Reuters. “Cholera is a water-borne disease and so additional water means additional risk,” said Lindmeier. Tomas skirted Haiti on Friday, flooding some coastal towns, forcing thousands from their homes and soaking camps for displaced people in the capital Port-au-Prince with rain.
Eight people died as a result of the hurricane, the government said on Saturday, and about 10,000 people left their homes voluntarily to escape floodwaters. That was a light storm toll compared with the destruction inflicted by hurricanes and storms that battered the Western Hemisphere’s poorest county in 2004 and 2008, killing several thousand people. More than 250,000 people died in the Jan. 12 earthquake that struck the poor Caribbean country. United Nations officials said Haiti was lucky it was not hit harder by Tomas, an unpredictable late hurricane in the busy 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. “We have avoided the worst,” said Elisabeth Diaz, spokeswoman for the U. N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Hurricane Tracker: http://www.reuters.com/subjects/hurricanes Other links: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ http://www.skeetobiteweather.com/ http://www.wunderground.com/tropical/ Insurance Linked Securities: https://inside.thomsonreuters.com/trading/ILS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> After raking Haiti, Tomas swept over the Turks and Caicos Islands early on Saturday as a tropical storm. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties. By late Saturday, Tomas had regained hurricane strength over the open Atlantic, but posed no threat to land. While sparing Haiti widespread destruction or mass casualties, the hurricane still created a major disruption weeks before presidential and legislative elections set for Nov. 28.
Electoral officials have not postponed the vote. DISEASE RISK, CROP DAMAGE The cholera epidemic, which has affected five of Haiti’s provinces, still appeared to be spreading. Haiti’s health ministry released updated figures showing 501 people had died through Nov. 4, up from 442 on Nov. 3. The deadly diarrheal disease can be easily treated by oral rehydration if caught in time. Relief agencies were rushing clean drinking water and food to areas affected by the floods. One of the worst hit zones was Leogane, a town west of Port-au-Prince badly damaged in the January earthquake. There was also flooding in Les Cayes, Jacmel and Gonaives.
The British charity Save the Children said floodwaters in Leogane had affected some 35,000 people, turning streets into “rivers,” destroying possessions and washing out tents. Thousands of children in Leogane were now at increased risk of diseases like cholera, diarrhea and malaria, said Gary Shaye, country director for Save the Children in Haiti Haiti’s government and the United Nations appealed to donors on Friday for nearly $19 million to cover urgent needs. Dispatched to help with relief operations, the U.S. amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima was ready to send in helicopters, landing craft, engineers and medics. Haitian President Rene Preval and the top U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the country, Nigel Fisher, inspected the flood-affected areas by helicopter. Fisher said the hurricane damaged the coffee crop and other crops like bananas, and urged the international community to focus again fully on Haiti’s arduous post-quake rebuilding.
“This (the storm) has taken our eye off the ball but we have to get back to it now. … The emphasis absolutely has to be on recovery,” he said, urging that homeless quake survivors be gradually integrated back into their communities. In Port-au-Prince, still scarred by the Jan. 12 quake, hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors sat out the storm under rain-drenched tents and tarpaulins. “My tent has lots of holes in it, so we got wet,” said Renette Dornis, 38. Jamaica escaped major damage from Tomas, but rains forced the evacuation of several thousand people in eastern Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor on Hispaniola island.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince, Horace Helps in Kingston, Manuel Jimenez in Santo Domingo, Jeff Franks in Havana; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Todd Eastham)
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Israel ranked 15th in quality of life

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Source article

Annual UN report concludes ‘people today are generally healthier, wealthier and better educated than they were in 1970’
News agencies

The United Nations ranked Israel 15th in its annual flagship report on comprehensive human development, which was published on Thursday.

The Human Development Report, issued annually by the UN Development Program (UNDP), assesses the state of human development on the basis of health, education and income indicators, as an alternative to purely macroeconomic assessments of national progress.

Norway is leading in the UN rating, followed by Australia, New Zealand and the US. Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe occupy the last three positions in the list.

Asia was the region that progressed fastest in terms of human development since 1970, with China and Indonesia leading the way. Some Arab countries, especially Oman, and many Latin American nations showed marked progress as well, the report said.

There were five Asian countries on the top 10 list of countries showing the most improvement: China (No. 2), Nepal (No. 3), Indonesia (No. 4), Laos (No. 6) and South Korea (No. 8).

Arab countries made up the other five on the list: Oman, now heavily investing its energy earnings into public education and health, was No. 1, followed by Saudi Arabia (No. 5), Tunisia (No. 7), Algeria (No. 9) and Morocco (No. 10).

Life expectancy in Arab countries overall increased from 51 years in 1970 to almost 70 today, the greatest gain of any region. Infant mortality rates in the Arab world plunged from 98 deaths per 1,000 live births to 38, below the current world average of 44. School enrolment in Arab countries nearly doubled over 40 years, from 34 per cent in 1970 to 64 per cent today.

The UN has divided the 169 countries in its list into four groups according to a level of human development: “very high,” “high,” “medium” and “low.”

The UN report concludes that “people today are generally healthier, wealthier and better educated than they were in 1970.”

“The majority of developing countries have made dramatic but underestimated gains in health and education in recent decades, although severe inequalities within and between countries remain,” the UN said on its website.

Progress made by many countries is “not directly linked with national economic growth, showing that impressive long-term gains can and have been made even without consistent economic performance.”

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UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon: Pakistan Floods Are Worst Disaster I’ve Ever Seen

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

October 28, 2010

Click here to learn how you can help the Pakistan flood victims.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday he has never seen anything like the flood disaster in Pakistan after surveying the devastation and urged foreign donors to speed up assistance to the 20 million people affected.

Ban’s comments reflect the concern of the international community about the unfolding disaster in Pakistan, which is battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants, has a weak and unpopular government, and an anemic economy propped up by international assistance.

“This has been a heart-wrenching day for me,” Ban said after flying over the hard-hit areas with President Asif Ali Zardari. “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

Ban visited Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, killing an estimated 138,000 people. He also flew to China’s Sichuan province just days after an earthquake killed nearly 90,000 people in March 2008.

Australia’s ABC news reported that Ban was visibly shaken:

“The magnitude of the problem; the world has never seen such a disaster. It’s much beyond anybody’s imagination,” he said.”This is a long-term affair; this is a two-year campaign. We have to consider that and keep that in mind.

“For two years we’ve got to give them crops, fertilisers; we’ve got to give them seed; we’ve got to look after them, feed them, for two years, to bring them back to where they were. And they will still not be where they were.”

 

The floods that began more than two weeks ago in Pakistan’s mountainous northwest have now hit about one-quarter of the country, especially its agricultural heartland. While the death toll of 1,500 is relatively small, the scale of the flooding and number of people whose lives have been disrupted is staggering.

The world body has appealed for an initial $460 million to provide relief, but only 20 percent has been given.

Once the floods recede, billions more will be needed for reconstruction and getting people back to work in the already-poor nation of 170 million people. The International Monetary Fund has warned the floods could dent economic growth and fuel inflation.

“Waves of flood must be met with waves of support from the world,” said Ban. “I’m here to urge the world to step up assistance,” he said.

President Zardari has been criticized for his response to the disaster, especially for going ahead with a state visit to Europe just as the crisis was unfolding. Zardari has visited victims twice since returning, but images of him at a family owned chateau while in France are likely to hurt him for months to come.

In his first comments to the media since returning, he defended the government.

“The government has responded very responsibly,” he said, saying the army, the police, the navy and officials were all working to relieve the suffering. “I would appeal to the press to understand the magnitude of the disaster.”

Zardari said it would take up to two years for the country to recover.

Ban said visa restrictions had been eased for humanitarian workers and they now could get visas on arrival at Pakistan airports.

On Saturday, the prime minister said 20 million people had been made homeless in the disaster.

The monsoon rains that triggered the disaster are forecast to fall for several weeks yet, meaning the worst may not yet be over. Over the weekend, tens of thousand of people were forced to flee their homes when they were inundated by fresh floods from the swollen River Indus.

While local charities and international agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people with food, water, shelter and medical treatment, the scale of the disaster has meant that many millions have received little or no assistance. The U.N. has voiced fears that disease in overcrowded and unsanitary relief camps may yet cause more deaths.

Earlier Sunday, survivors fought over food being handed out from a relief vehicle close to the town of Sukkur in hard-hit Sindh province, ripping at each others’ clothes and causing such chaos that the distribution had to be abandoned, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

“The impatience of the people has deprived us of the little food that had come,” said Shaukat Ali, a flood victim waiting for food.

Waters five feet (1.5 meters) deep washed through Derra Allah Yar, a city of 300,000 people on the border of Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, said government official Salim Khoso. About 200,000 had fled the city and Khoso said he did not know how they would be fed.

“We are here like beggars,” said Mukhtar Ali, a 45-year-old accountant living on the side of a highway along with thousands of other people. “The last food we received was a small packet of rice yesterday and 15 of us shared that.”

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Flooding in Colombia: A hidden emergency

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

27 Oct 2010 15:18:29 GMT
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author’s alone.
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In the past three months, more than 900,000 people have lost their homes and livelihoods because of flooding in northern Colombia, and the rainy season has only just begun. Niki Barton meets people affected by the floods.

Liliana  Ortiz, her husband and four children lost their family vegetable garden, and many of their animals ran away or drowned when the family moved to shelter on higher ground. Photo: Niki Barton

Liliana Ortiz, her husband and four children lost their family vegetable garden, and many of their animals ran away or drowned when the family moved to shelter on higher ground. Photo: Niki Barton

I step out of the canoe, aiming for a shallow area so the water won’t come over the top of my wellington boot. Then I notice the group of children walking past without boots, without shoes even, the water coming up almost to their waists.This is Lorica, a small community in Monteria, northern Colombia. The village has been flooded for more than two months and people are becoming used to the water level. Wellington boots are too much of a hassle, and besides, it’s 40 degrees – who can wear wellies in 40 degree heat?The water is dangerous. It’s filthy from the mud washed in from the streets and the fields, from the excrement of pigs and chickens living in it, and from the rubbish floating in it. Fortunately there is access to clean water for drinking and washing. After flooding in 2007, Oxfam helped the community to rehabilitate a water pumping station to treat and distribute water to each household. Since then the community has set up a water management committee to keep the station working, collecting a small monthly fee from each family to pay for running costs and maintenance.I meet Liliana. Her house has been flooded and she’s sheltering with her husband and four children at the community’s collective farm. At first they stayed in their house, but as the waters rose she began to worry for her children. They had cuts and scratches which were becoming infected in the dirty water. Her youngest son is three years old and after a week, the water level was higher than his head; Liliana was afraid he would drown, so they left the house. They brought with them what possessions they could carry in a canoe, but their vegetable garden was ruined and most of their animals ran away or drowned.I meet other members of community. They tell me that flooding here is normal, it happens every year. But the nature of the flooding is changing, and it is getting worse. The people here used to be fishermen, but fifteen years ago a large dam was built on the river. Fish could no longer swim upstream to reproduce, and fish stocks plummeted. Most of the fishermen became farmers instead. Where the flood waters used to bring an abundance of fish, they now wash away fields and crops. Instead of a time of plenty, it’s a time of destruction. And not all of the flooding is natural. The company that owns the dam sometimes opens the doors to release water, which causes flooding downstream with no warning.In some cases the need for humanitarian assistance is urgent, and Oxfam is providing 1,000 families with water filters, tanks and hygiene kits, and working with community organisations to repair four water pumping stations.But it’s not all up to Oxfam. The Colombian Government has a responsibility to respond to the devastation caused by the flooding. In September, Oxfam co-ordinated a visit by the Colombian media to see the impact of the flooding, and to investigate the causes. The coverage brought to public attention the extent of the floods’ impact, and the role of the dam in exacerbating “natural” flooding. Local and national government have now recognised the need to address the situation.But it’s not over yet. People are still living in two feet of water and the rainy season doesn’t start in earnest until November. But at least the issue is now on the national agenda, and there’s a chance to work towards disaster prevention measures to reduce the impact of future floods.Where we work: Colombia
More from the Oxfam Press Office at http://www.oxfam.org.uk/news

[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Reuters. ]


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