Pakistan: Multi-million dollar drought package announced

ISLAMABAD, 23 January (IRIN) - Aid workers have welcomed Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali's announcement on Wednesday of a US $33-million relief package for the five-year-long drought in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, but say much more is needed.
"Any aid that mitigates the effects of drought is welcome," Nasrullah Bareach, a local aid worker told IRIN from Balochistan's provincial capital, Quetta, on Thursday. "Drought is not a short-term emergency, it has been caused by decades of environmental degradation and improper management of natural resources and we need more resources," he added.

The drought threatens the livelihoods of millions of farmers and nomads in Balochistan. With an area of some 400,000 km and a population of nine million people, Balochistan is Pakistan's largest and least populated province. While most of its people depend on agriculture and raising livestock, the area remains underdeveloped and marginalised. The drought has made the situation even worse.

"Not only the economy was devastated, the water tables went down, diseases spread and people were forced to migrate," Bareach said, summing up the drought's worst effects. He added that in some areas even drinking water was unavailable.

Although there were no official details available on how the relief package would be spent, Shah maintained that it would include providing people with immediate food aid and emergency health care, as well as fodder for their livestock so that these could survive the lack of pasture.

"There is no clear programme, and we will plan for this, but building communications and rehabilitation of the agriculture sector remain critical," he told IRIN.

According to some assessments, 22 districts of a total of 26 in the province have been affected. Pishin, Killa Saifullah and Loralai in the north, and Chaghi, Khuzdar and Markan in the south and centre of the province are the most badly hit.

Balochistan's provincial finance minister, Seyed Ehsan Shah, maintained that the government was doing its best to alleviate the drought situation. "It will take time, but we are committed to provide relief to the poor and vulnerable," he said, adding that the development of Balochistan remained the government's top priority.

However, Bareach maintained that as most of the projects were only concentrated on relief, and it was difficult for aid organisations to reach out to communities in remote areas, the situation was deteriorating. "Many people do not know the real situation here. It's worsening every day," he said.

Echoing Bareach's view was Muhammad Idress, a programme coordinator with the international NGO, Oxfam. "It is welcome, but this money is not sufficient," he told IRIN, adding that there should be some quick-impact projects. "In the long term, you need agricultural rehabilitation and sustainable use of natural resources," he said.

Despite some recent rains and snow, experts believe that the drought is expected to continue. "These were drops in the ocean," Idress said.


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