Funding crisis threatens aid for Pakistan’s 2.5 million displaced people

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 15 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2447
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    Aid for millions of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat valley is being jeopardised by a severe funding shortage, as the imminent arrival of the annual monsoon threatens to worsen conditions further, a group of international aid agencies has warned. The nine agencies issuing the alert face a combined shortfall of £26m (€31m; $43m).

    “This is the worst funding crisis we’ve faced in over a decade for a major humanitarian emergency,” said Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s humanitarian director. “Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes. One month into this emergency Oxfam is £4m short, and [we] will have to turn our backs on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

    Last month’s rapid exodus from the Swat valley swelled the number of displaced people from 500 000 to 2.5 million, and aid workers are struggling to cope.

    The UK and US based medical charity Merlin warned that at present less than 40% of healthcare needs were being covered. Any further decrease in service provision will have a disastrous effect on the health status of internally displaced persons and host communities, with high potential for widespread epidemics, it said.

    The agencies say that the funding crisis is not just affecting them. An appeal by the United Nations for $543m for aid to displaced people in Pakistan has received only $138m so far, leaving a 75% shortfall. Of the 52 organisations requesting funding from the UN’s appeal, 30 have received nothing so far. The organisations say that little money is going into the UN appeal but that even less is being dispersed to operations on the ground.

    In a joint statement nine major agencies said: “In a humanitarian crisis, speed of delivery is vital. Previously governments would give part of their aid money directly to frontline agencies. Now when governments do give aid money, it tends to go to the UN, which then passes it on to agencies working on the ground. Though the UN system can improve coordination and reduce duplication of effort, the allocation of money to frontline agencies takes far too long.”

    The UK Department for International Development said that it will now directly fund organisations working within the UN system. Although welcoming this change, the agencies said that other donors will need to be just as flexible to cover the shortfall.

    “With monsoon rains due by July, serious health risks will increase, as water sources become contaminated and sanitation worsens,” said Carolyn Miller, Merlin’s chief executive. “At a time when the risks of malaria, respiratory infection, and diarrhoea start to escalate, agencies will be forced to close down programmes.

    “The only reason we haven’t faced a massive humanitarian meltdown is the generosity of families and communities of modest means who have looked after the vast majority of those who have fled the fighting. With so many mouths to feed, these communities will soon be running on empty. The world’s richest nations need to dig much deeper into their pockets to help.”

    Aid operations were further hampered last week by the suicide bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the northern city of Peshawar, in which five UN staff members were killed.

    The agencies issuing the funding alert are ActionAid, CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), CARE, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2447

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