5 August - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is deploying helicopters in Pakistan to feed the victims of deadly floods which the world body's humanitarian arm estimates has so far affected some 4.5 million people.

The Pakistani Government has offered WFP the use of six helicopters to airlift food to tens of thousands of hungry people people scattered across the Swat Valley in the hard-hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province.

“In this scene of devastation, with roads cut [off] and bridges washed away, these helicopters are literally life-savers as they are the only way to get vital food supplies to many thousands of hungry and desperate people,” said the agency's Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.

A WFP team in Swat has identified safe locations for the helicopters for land, and along with its partners, the agency plans to distribute ready-to-eat food for infants and young children, as well as high-energy biscuits and wheat flour to those in need.

This morning, seven metric tons of food – enough to feed 2,500 people for one week – were airlifted to the town of Kalam. WFP began its food distributions over the weekend in the districts of Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan and Peshawar in KPK, and by last night had reached nearly 155,000 people with rations.

The agency plans to scale up its assistance, and preliminary indications are that some 1.8 million people in the province need food following the flooding triggered by monsoon rains.

Manuel Bessler, an official with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva that the death toll has topped 1,600 and the number of people affected has passed 4 million and continues to rise.

He stressed to UN Radio that the lack of access to so many areas because of the flood waters is hampering the relief efforts and increasing the frustration of survivors.

“We are afraid that this is an emergency developing and we are not out of the woods,” Mr. Bessler said. “There are imminent needs in the north but the waters are moving southwards so these areas will be affected. In this sense it is an evolving emergency that will get worse before it gets better.”

OCHA reported today that 100,000 homes have been destroyed while 50,000 more have been damaged in KPK alone. In neighbouring Punjab province, 25,000 homes have been destroyed and 48,000 damaged.

In KPK, people are sheltering in more than 300 collective centres, such as schools and mosques, along with five informal camps and about 100 roadside encampments.

To date, OCHA said that 20,000 tents have been distributed to needy families, while 700,000 people have been reached with clean water and 22,000 families have received food aid.

For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that diarrhoeal diseases are among the most reported health conditions in several locations. Some 13,000 consultations, including for acute diarrhoea, have been reported in the KPK districts of Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan and Peshawar, while nearly 600 more have been reported in Baluchistan province.

Although the number of diarrhoeal disease cases is on the rise, no large-scale outbreaks have been confirmed, the agency said.

The local Emergency Relief Fund – as well as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which was set up in 2006 to allow the UN to dispatch funds to tackle disasters and crises as soon as they emerge – has already made resources available to help deal with the disaster.

OCHA is considering what type of appeal might be appropriate and is urging those who want to help to refrain from sending unsolicited and uncoordinated supplies, which would stretch limited logistical resources. Instead, the office is recommending that people support reputable, well-established aid agencies already on the ground which can purchase local goods that can reach those in need quickly.