New Delhi: Up to five million people in Pakistan are at risk from floods this year, partly due to poor reconstruction and the inadequate rehabilitation of survivors who are still reeling from last year`s epic deluge, the UN said on Wednesday.
Monsoon floods began roaring through Pakistan in late July last year, leaving one-fifth of the country -- an area the size of Italy -- underwater, disrupting the lives of more than 18 million people.
The government and aid organisations were criticized for being too slow to respond while the military, seen as a far more efficient institution, took the lead in relief operations.
As Pakistan braces itself again for its annual monsoon season -- which runs from late June to early September -- the U.N. says authorities and the aid community have learnt lessons and are better prepared -- even for the worst case scenario.
"Since the beginning of March, we have been in close contact with the government to make sure response is up and running and that we are better prepared this year," said Manuel Bessler, head of the U.N. emergencies office (OCHA) in Pakistan.
"The most anticipated scenario is two million affectees and the worst case scenario is five million. We are prepared for these two scenarios," he told AlertNet by phone from Islamabad.
Last year`s flooding -- which went on for almost three months and wiped out villages from the far north to the deep south of the country -- is considered to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times. Around 11 million people were left homeless, 2,000 were killed, infrastructure such as bridges and roads washed away and millions of acres of crops destroyed.
Based on forecasts from the Pakistan Meteorological Department, this year`s monsoons are, in general, likely to be 10 percent below normal.
But despite this, millions could be hit by floods, partly because infrastructure such as dykes and embankments were "weak" and could have been strengthened better, said Bessler, who heads the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A lack of funds has meant that some communities have not been able to adequately reconstruct their homes or regain financial income after losing their livelihoods as farmers, making them more susceptible this year.
The U.N. last year appealed to the world for almost $2 billion -- the biggest appeal ever launched by the body for any humanitarian emergency -- to help survivors. Yet, 30 percent of the appeal remains unfunded almost one year on.
"The vulnerabilities are higher this year than last year," he said. "This a because of poor timing and a lack of funding which has meant that perhaps, things were not be done to the level they could have been."
Also, environmental conditions such as increased snow melt in mountainous areas was leading to high water levels in rivers, while ground water levels were already high after last year`s deluge, reducing its absorption capacity.
Bessler said the humanitarian community were prepositioning relief items --- tents, water and sanitation equipment and filling up warehouses with food items, as well as establishing coordination structures with authorities at federal and provincial levels.
"The monsoon will happen – it’s just a question how big and if external assistance is needed by Pakistan," he said.
"We have to be ready because this would be a major failure if the government and humanitarian community have not learnt the lessons from last year`s experience."