Aid agencies in Pakistan say they are in a race against time to reach flood-stricken communities with desperately needed assistance. But, with flood waters moving so swiftly throughout the country, they acknowledge their ability to respond to the growing disaster is unable to keep pace with the humanitarian needs.
The floodwaters that had affected about four million people in northwest Pakistan have swept southward to Sindh Province. The government now reports an estimated 12 million people are affected.
The official death rate remains at 1,600, but is expected to rise dramatically once the full extent of this catastrophic event is known.
Figures keep changing at lightning speed. The Federal Flood Commission said Friday more than 248,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged. It now has raised this number to 650,000.
While figures continue to change and to be disputed, aid agencies agree the scale of the disaster is daunting. And so are the needs. The sheets of rain falling in Pakistan are expected to continue throughout the month, adding to the misery of the population.
Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, says her agency and others are doing their best to help the vulnerable. But, she says providing relief is difficult.
"Our contacts on the ground are reporting to us that there are shortages of food and medicine and electrical power and gas supplies have been completely disconnected and that is really awful. Clean water simply is not available. The wells are full of mud," said Fleming.
The lack of clean water is posing serious health risks. Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, says water-borne diseases such as diarrheal diseases, cholera and typhoid are a high threat.
She says respiratory infections and contagious diseases such as measles and meningitis spread quickly in overcrowded settings.
"Vector borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever do also represent a risk. WHO has reinforced its early warning system and we were able then to detect quite rapidly the cases of diarrhea," said the spokeswoman. "And, also WHO has sent tons of material to the region including emergency kits and is working with different partners to reinforce prevention measures and social mobilization prevention of water borne diseases."
U.N. aid agencies agree their initial responses to the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan probably will have to be revised to keep up with the growing needs.
The U.N. refugee agency says, for now, it is aiming to support more than 350,000 of the most vulnerable among the flood-affected population in Pakistan. The agency says it will spend more than $20 million for this operation.
The World Food Program says it needs $63 million to provide food assistance to one-quarter of a million people. It, too, says the number of beneficiaries is likely to increase.
The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for $47.3 million to fund its relief operation for the millions hit by flooding in Pakistan, including an estimated 1.8 million children.