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IRIN Asia | Asia | PAKISTAN | PAKISTAN: Focus on relief aid to northern Balochistan | Early Warning, Economy, Food Security, Health, Natural Disasters | Focus
Wednesday 28 December 2005
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PAKISTAN: Focus on relief aid to northern Balochistan

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


Army relief supply trucks in Barshore

QUETTA, 4 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Government agencies and relief agencies are still trying to get emergency assistance to thousands of isolated communities in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan. In the first two weeks of February, persistent heavy rain and snowfall severely affected about 150,000 people in the northern upland district of Toba Kakar in Pishin and Toba Achakzai in the Qilla Abdullah district of the poverty-stricken province.

People were reported stranded in the area, suffering from a severe shortage of food and fuel for more than two weeks, without any communication with the rest of the country.

The region has suffered from seven years of drought, compounded by torrential rains, flash floods and heavy snowfall since January in the worst winter weather in more than a decade.

Pakistani army teams, along with two helicopters, started relief operations on 15 February, but were unable to fly over the highlands of Toba Kakar, until 19 February due to heavy snowfall. "Army teams airdropped fuel, wood and food packs including about 20 edible items. We also established medical camps, wherever ground mobility was possible," Col Tariq Mehmood, in charge of army relief operations in Balochistan, told IRIN in Barshore, some 100 km north of Quetta.

Army teams also distributed food and other relief supplies provided by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the international humanitarian agency, Mercy Corps.


"Pishin is a backward area, with some 380,000 people - mostly rural. Due to persistent drought, people had nothing in savings to stockpile food and other supplies for winter and this year's cold spell is unusually long and harsh. A combination of all these factors has led to an emergency situation," Dr Gohar Aijaz Khan Kakar, head of the northern district of Pishin, some 50 km from the provincial capital, Quetta, told IRIN.

A severe shortage of wood for fuel has been reported in the rain-affected areas and in a few areas, airdropped packs also included firewood, Muhammad Hashim Ghilzai, district administrative officer of Pishin, told IRIN. "Even in some areas people have been reported using the timbers of collapsed roofs for heating and cooking purposes," Ghilzai said.

Heavy rains over the past two months have severely damaged the road network mainly comprised of mud tracks, local governors have reported. "One can imagine the situation of mobility from the fact that it took 12 hours to travel a distance of 65 km to Qilla Abdullah. However, it took 19 hours to return," Muhammad Raza, working with Mercy Corps, told IRIN in Quetta.

Health problems appear to be related to poverty and poor diet rather than the recent winter weather. "About 250 - 300 patients are examined daily in this medical camp and provided with medicines. However, so far not even a single patient has come with any problem related to severe cold. Instead all are coming with chronic diseases of the urinary and digestive systems, tuberculosis and problems due to malnourishment," Captain Junaid Ahmed, an army medic working in the camp, told IRIN in Barshore.

Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, but is the least populated, with around 8 million people out of a total of 140 million, according to a 1998 national census. "The population is mostly rural and scattered in small clusters across the province. Each village contains 10 -15 households on average, and is located miles away from the other," Raza pointed out.


A drive to revive the livelihoods of poverty-stricken communities in the province is needed, according to local authorities. "To provide relief goods to disaster-hit communities, is a short term solution. Due to persistent drought in previous years, people have lost everything - agriculture, livestock and savings - whatever they had. Their purchasing power has diminished, so some sustainable approach is needed to help and rehabilitate them," Kakar said.

"The drought years have finished the grazing lands in much of Balochistan and it will take time to develop again. Long-term plans are needed to revive the livestock. The government should take initiatives to provide sheep, goats and other animals to poor communities to help revive the economy," Inam-ul-lah, programme manager at the Balochistan branch of international development agency, Concern, told IRIN in Quetta.

Inam-ul-lah stressed the need to look for alternate livelihoods other than traditional ones. "Many other agro-based industries should be introduced here. Balochistan has a wide variety of fruit orchards but here, proper packaging and preserving techniques are nonexistent."


But the current winter rains in Balochistan, despite the damage they are causing, could spell the end of the long drought and offer a new lease of life to the province. "The winter rains and snowfall have significantly improved the ground water table which was depleting at a fast pace and the situation will further improve in coming months as the snow melts," Mumtaz Khan Mehsood, chief water engineer of the northern zone of Balochistan, told IRIN in Quetta.

At present, some 247 locally-built small irrigation reservoirs in the province are reported full and should provide enough water for agriculture for the next couple of years, Mehsood said.

But in order not to squander this natural opportunity, a proper water conservation strategy will be needed in the province, according to Concern's programme manager. "Methods using diesel pumps and flood irrigation should be discouraged. Windmills and hand pumps should be introduced to improve the water-use efficiency," Inam-ul-lah said.

Concern has started working to revive local agriculture through the provision of certified seeds for sowing. "Heavy rains over the past two months have improved the water availability situation and now we are planning to introduce some programmes for better storage and packaging of fruit, besides providing seeds," Inam-ul-lah added.


 Theme(s) Early Warning
Other recent PAKISTAN reports:

Relief assistance needed in Khatker,  27/Dec/05

Quake kids smile once more,  27/Dec/05

Focus on UNHCR efforts to keep quake survivors warm,  23/Dec/05

Many mountain quake villages still without health care,  23/Dec/05

Widows in quake area battle to survive,  22/Dec/05

Other recent Early Warning reports:

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Acute malnutrition rates rise as food crisis deepens, 27/Dec/05

WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 309 covering 17 - 23 December 2005, 23/Dec/05

MIDDLE EAST: MIDDLE EAST: Weekly round-up Number 53 for 18 – 22 December 2005, 22/Dec/05

ETHIOPIA: Birds test negative for avian flu, 20/Dec/05

KENYA: Gov't appeals for food aid for people in arid areas, 19/Dec/05

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