UN calls for new thinking on mega-crises

The new UN humanitarian chief has warned that after the Asian tsunami, the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods, the world must brace for a growing number of disasters that will need a new battle campaign.

Valerie Amos, the new under secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, called for new thinking on combating mass catastrophes as she prepared to make a major new appeal for funds for Pakistan on Friday.

“This is an immense and still unfolding crisis,” she said of the floods that are moving from north to south in Pakistan, where the government has given a provisional toll of at least 1,760 dead.

“It has just been become bigger and bigger and bigger over a period of time.”

“It is one of the biggest disasters we have ever faced. So we will in future have to look at new ways of working, new ways of funding, broadening our donor base,” said the former British minister.

Amos insisted that lessons must be learned from the bigger disasters of recent years, ranging from the 2004 tsunami than killed more than 220,000 people across the Indian Ocean to the Haiti earthquake in January that left 250,000 dead.

UN officials say the scale of the devastation in Pakistan is bigger because 21 million people are affected, many having seen their homes destroyed or lost their crops and farm land to the floods.

Pakistan also has the world’s largest refugee population, mainly from Afghanistan.

“We can’t just go back to business as usual in terms of how we tackle these large complex emergencies,” she said, warning that there would more rather than fewer of the disasters.

“Having seen the tsunami, having seen Haiti and seen what is going on in Pakistan I think we have to recognize that we face bigger and bigger crises and we are going to have to work in a completely different way if we are going to grasp these,” Amos told a news conference at the UN headquarters.

A review of how UN agencies and aid groups react to the mega-crises will be carried out in coming months, added Amos, who took up her job in August and made a trip to Pakistan her first mission.

The UN disaster relief chief told reporters that the floods are still spreading, particularly in Sindh.

“Millions more have been displaced in the last few weeks,” she said.

“The human implications of what will happen if not enough is done are terrible.”

She told of a rising number of cases of cholera, diarrhoea and malnutrition. Aid agencies are struggling to cope and catch up with the scale of events.

“This is a disaster which is bigger than one which the UN can deal with alone. It is bigger than what the humanitarian community can deal with on its own.”

“It has been two months now that the water has been moving from north to south, it is the equivalent of a new disaster every few days. It is putting a huge strain on the capacity that we have.

Although UN officials complained last month that international funding for Pakistan had nearly dried up, Amos said about 70 percent of the earlier UN appeal had been found and another 400 million dollars had been donated through bilateral aid.