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Red Cross workers face anger in Pakistan

Red Cross aid workers have faced angry crowds in Pakistan when distributing food and other supplies to flood victims, a disturbing trend that could jeopardise operations, a senior official said today.

world Updated: Sep 02, 2010 19:36 IST
Reuters

Red Cross aid workers have faced angry crowds in Pakistan when distributing food and other supplies to flood victims, a disturbing trend that could jeopardise operations, a senior official said on Thursday.

An ICRC relief convoy was forced to halt handouts of supplies and retreat hastily in Punjab province this week, according to Jacques de Maio, head of South Asia operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"We have had two instances where we had to stop distribution because of unrest. And we are worried because if this trend expands and propagates it would put under pressure our ability to help people," de Maio told a news briefing in Geneva.

An earlier incident took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province several weeks ago, forcing the ICRC to interrupt distributions there temporarily.

Faced with growing resentment of the foreign aid effort due to unmet needs and statements by Islamic militants hostile to against outsiders, the neutral humanitarian agency is carefully monitoring public acceptance of its convoys, which travel without armed escort, to evaluate risks, de Maio said.

"The choice is the usual dilemmma. Are we ready to have our friends from the Pakistani Red Crescent, and our own staff being killed or looted?," he said.

The ICRC deploys 1,340 staff in the country, one tenth of them expatriates, and enjoys rare access to remote areas beyond the reach of most United Nations aid agencies.

"We have detected this trend in areas we reach where the people are so in need, so resentful of not getting enough aid that they turn understandably aggressive," de Maio said.

"The fact is that we have millions of people as we speak who need simply food and clean water and are not getting it."

Pakistan's government is trying to cope with the country's worst floods, which began a month ago, leaving millions homeless and destroying crops and infrastructure which Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani estimated could cause $43 billion in damage.

It boosted security in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday a day after three bomb attacks killed 33 people and wounded 171. The blasts which hit a Shi'ite process bore the hallmarks of pro-Taliban insurgents bent on destabilising Pakistan. [ID:nSGE68105T]

"Our point is that among the various constraints that we are facing on the ground there is also this growing resentment against the aid effort. There is an increasing politicisation of the aid effort across the board," de Maio said.

"There have been clear voices saying that foreigners are not welcome, that the aid is ineffective," he added, referring to statements by Al Qaeda-backed Taliban militants.

The ICRC has brought food, clean water and medical supplies to more than 350,000 people in areas including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

It appealed on Thursday for a further 77 million Swiss francs ($76.01 million), more than double its current annual budget for Pakistan, to extend its assistance to 1.4 million flood victims in all.

"This is not a sprint. We're here for a marathon. We need to make sure this (type of incident) does not become the rule but the exception," de Maio said.

First Published: Sep 02, 2010 19:32 IST