[GALLERY id=3755 cat=world]

The crisis in Pakistan will not end when the floods there recede, the United Nations refugee agency says, warning of widespread famine, disease and homelessness.

NOTES FROM THE FIELD

a-arsenault-cbc

"It was a very frustrating morning for the military in the northwest of Pakistan," CBC correspondent Adrienne Arsenault said Friday.

"We were at a base at dawn with Pakistani and Afghan military helicopters. They were loaded with rice and sugar and cooking oil — basically, enough food for some 200 people for about a week, very basic supplies.

"But the helicopters didn't go anywhere. There was a torrential rainstorm and this is the second day in a row that these choppers were grounded."

Arsenault said the military is being praised for its effort, but the Pakistani government is still facing criticism for its handling of flood relief.

She said there are now fears that extremist groups might step in and offer medical care and emergency aid to people affected by the floods in exchange for support.

As many as 14 million people have been affected in some way by the floods, which tore through many northern communities and are spreading in the south.

"There continues to be massive destruction as bloated rivers flow southwards across the plains," the UN refugee agency said in a statement. "And this crisis will not be over when the flood waters recede — due to homelessness, hunger and illness."

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday that nearly 7,000 square kilometres of crops are under water and many surviving animals have no access to food.

"One hundred per cent crop losses have been recorded in many areas and tens of thousands of animals have been killed," the FAO said in a statement.

Aid agencies are working with government officials to assess the damage and deliver humanitarian assistance, but bad weather and damaged infrastructure are creating challenges for aid organizations.

Estimates vary, but officials have said between 1,200 and 1,600 people have died as a result of the floods.

Fear of disease

Meanwhile, officials are expressing concern about potential outbreaks of disease, including waterborne viruses and skin diseases.

"Relief supplies must reach women, men and children as soon as possible, in order to avoid further death caused by waterborne diseases and food shortages," said Martin Mogwanja, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Pakistan.

"The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, and we want to keep it that way."

In the Multan area of Punjab province, medical workers have seen at least 1,000 children with illnesses such as gastroenteritis in the last three days, said Mumtaz Hussain, a doctor at the main government hospital.

The hospital is treating victims at its main facility and has also set up 12 medical camps in the area.

The UN says dams in southern Sindh province could still burst in the coming days as bloated rivers gush through. More rains are expected over the weekend and monsoon season is forecast to last several more weeks.

Areas around the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus rivers in Sindh and Punjab provinces are likely to be affected by the new rains, said Irfan Virk, an official with the Pakistani Flood Forecasting Division.

The UN launched a global appeal Wednesday for nearly $460 million US to deal with immediate relief needs in Pakistan. As of Friday, about 20 per cent of the funding had been received, the UN said.

The U.S. has pledged more than $70 million and sent a ship and helicopters to assist relief efforts. Canada pledged $2 million on Aug. 3 and will announce an additional $30 million in aid on Saturday.

With files from The Associated Press