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Pakistani Aid Effort Hurt by Scale, Terrain, Instability

August 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As millions of Pakistanis struggle to meet their basic needs due to widespread flooding, aid groups are running into significant challenges trying to help them. Judy Woodruff talks to Daniel Wordsworth, CEO of the American Refugee Committee, about the myriad challenges aid groups face as they work to help Pakistanis.

JEFFREY BROWN: Judy Woodruff takes the story from there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the problems that aid groups are facing with relief efforts, we’re joined now by Daniel Wordsworth. He’s the president and CEO of the American Refugee Committee, which has a team on the ground in Pakistan.

Mr. Wordsworth, thank you for talking with us. That report from northern Pakistan was grim. What is your sense of the relief efforts right now on the ground including in the south where there’s new flooding?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH, American Refugee Committee: Yes, I mean one of the great challenges with this crisis is that this emergency basically spreads the entire length of Pakistan. It started in the Swat Valley but the water has just swept down through that entire country over hundreds and hundreds of miles wiping out entire villages through a number of states.

So you see really critical situations like the ones described on your piece but now you see the situation actually worsening in places in the southern part of Pakistan, in Balochistan, in Sindh, and in Punjab. And really it is desperate there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is it so hard to get aid to these people? One after– one person after another was telling the reporter there they had nothing.

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Yes. There are a range of challenges there. And frankly the international community is really trying to gear up. We’re really trying to get out and to find these people and to meet their needs.

There are over 20 million people affected by this crisis. And they’re spread from some of the most rugged terrain in the world in areas that for a number of years have been essentially experiencing open warfare. They’re incredibly insecure.

The nature of flooding means that you see bridges, you see electricity. You see roads completely destroyed. Infrastructure wiped out. So our very ability to get to some of these locations is challenged.

Our team has been forced to use zodiac craft, small boats to get to clinics. We use donkeys and mules and people walking on feet to get up into these mountains. The way that we’ve managed to reach people to date is that we were fortunate that we had existing health clinics and we had existing programs in many of these areas. And so our staff were able to reach out and provide at least emergency health services. But we really have to expand this effort. And I think part of the challenge here has been that much like the flood that has been building, the visibility of this crisis needs to increase.

People need to see that this is a huge emergency. People estimate that around 1/5 of their country is covered in flood water. And frankly we just need to get funds moving. This is an expensive business. We need to use helicopters. It’s about food. It’s about shelter. It’s about a whole range of things. And it’s just taking time to get them mobilized.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s the money that is a big part of the problem and it’s just the ability to get the aid to where it’s needed?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Yes. And the third point is that these are in conflict areas. These are very insecure areas. And they’re frankly dangerous for our staff. And so we’re actually trying to provide aid and humanitarian services in very contested regions. So it’s really the combination of those three things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now is that primarily in the north where there you have that more serious security problem?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: That’s particularly — the security problem is particularly strong in the Swat Valley and up in the north. But a lot of these areas are remote locations. They’re rugged. And they’re tough environments and insecure in themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What sort of support is your organization and other relief organizations — what sort of support are you getting from the Pakistan government, the Pakistan military?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Well, actually we try to coordinate with the Pakistan government, and we try to work with them to coordinate our response and so you have the United Nations working with organizations like the American Refugee Committee who then work alongside of the Pakistan government to get these services going.

As a humanitarian organization and particularly in these kinds of contested areas we tried to stay very visibly separate from the army. And so we haven’t been utilizing the helicopters and we haven’t been working alongside of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s because you don’t want to be seen as taking sides?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Well, it’s — maybe partially that. But actually it’s more that we — we have to stay in this region. We have to keep working with these people. This flooding is a major crisis, but it’s part of a long-term problem that’s existing in that region. And we need to be there after this flood. We just — we want it to be very clear for everybody involved that we are focused absolutely on the men, the women and the children who live in these villages. And we don’t want to get that message — you know, made murky in any way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because you’re worried about the political perceptions? Is that what you’re saying?


JUDY WOODRUFF: And again in terms of fundraising, what is your message to anyone watching who is thinking about whether to provide — to send a contribution or to do something else to try to help?

DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Well, I know America is an amazingly generous country. The country that’s really taken the lead in Pakistan when it comes to mobilizing resources has been the U.S. government. And we have noticed in the American Refugee Committee that the American people step up and are remarkably generous. And already this year we’re seeing a huge outpouring of sympathy and donations for the people affected by the crisis in Haiti.

But I would really just encourage people that the situation there is desperate. If you have an organization that you’re connected with, please go to their Web site and just make a contribution. We just need to get resources flowing.

We need urgently to provide fresh and clean water so that children aren’t affected by diarrhea, so that we don’t see cholera outbreaks. We have to set up sanitation facilities to keep whatever water is there and keep the environment as healthy as possible.

We need to keep these health clinics going. We need to make sure that cholera does not break out. We have to get people into some kind of shelter and some kind of housing. The monsoons aren’t stopping now. The rains keep on coming. And we need to get people into some kind of dry place. So please I’d just ask people again just to be generous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Daniel Wordsworth with the American Refugee Committee. Thank you very much.