News / Asia

WFP Seeks More Helicopters in Pakistan Flood Relief

U.N. officials in Pakistan say they need more helicopters to reach about a million people cut off from aid nearly a month into the flood crisis.

U.N. officials in Pakistan say nearly a month into the country's widespread flooding, the situation is getting worse, rather than better.

Officials estimate 16.8 million people are affected, with at least 4.8 million in need of aid.

Marcus Perior with the World Food Program in Islamabad told reporters humanitarian workers need more helicopters to reach 800,000 people who are cut off from the rest of the country because of the destroyed infrastructure.

"We estimate, based on the areas and the number of people that we cannot reach by road currently, that we require at least 40 more heavy-lift helicopters to reach into those areas.  I must stress that this is a moving picture," said Perior.

Pakistan has deployed more than 80 helicopters, including some on loan from other countries, for the relief effort.

Perior said aid agencies expect to put five more into service by mid-week and that each one will be critical for the relief effort.

"Just to give you an idea, in one month, those five helicopters could reach 140,000 individuals with food and non-food items, but the needs are enormous," he said.

Saleem Rehmat, who is with the International Organization for Migration, says that as the flood waters head farther south, millions more are becoming displaced.

He points to the city of Sukkur in Sindh province as especially hard hit with 80 percent of its population homeless.

"In Sukkur's streets, people are sleeping in the open, along the roads, under the bridges, and people really need shelter [and] support for that," he said.

He says that so far, his agency has distributed enough tents and plastic sheeting to provide shelter for about one million people, and he expects the arrival of additional supplies to cover more than double that number.

The World Health Organization says the combination of living out in the open and inadequate water and sanitation has caused an increase of diarrhea incidents across the country.  WHO officials say they are working to set up treatment centers in the worst affected areas.

Meanwhile, Pakistan officials are scheduled to begin talks in Washington Monday with the International Monetary Fund, seeking to ease the terms of a $10 billion loan program the country agreed to in 2008.  The increased economic burden of Pakistan's worst floods in decades is prompting the effort to seek relief from the loan's terms.

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