International aid agencies Oxfam, The Fred Hollows Foundation, and World Vision have joined with delegates at a United Nations health conference in Melbourne to call for the international community to freeze Pakistan’s debt and do more to help the country cope with the devastating effects of widespread flooding.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett says servicing debts to international donors currently costs Pakistan around $US3 billion ($A3.3 billion) annually - almost triple what the country spends on healthcare.

“More than 17 million people are currently affected by flooding in Pakistan. Water-borne diseases like diarrhoea are spreading and the healthcare needs are desperate. Freezing international debt would allow the Pakistan Government to do more to meet this urgent need,” Mr Hewett says.

World Vision Australia Chief Executive Tim Costello says it is important that the Government of Pakistan uses any funds that would be freed up by a debt freeze to meet healthcare needs and other urgent relief priorities.

“We know that these floods are going to affect Pakistan for months and years to come. Crops have been wiped out and houses destroyed. The Government of Pakistan should be able to focus its efforts on providing what people desperately need, rather than servicing international debt,” Mr Costello says.

The statement on strengthening international support for Pakistan was put to participants representing more than 350 non-goverment organisations from more than 70 countries at the 63rd Annual United Nations Department of Public Information Non-Governmental Organisation Conference in Melbourne.

The statement also calls for greater support and funding from the international community to help Pakistan cope with the scale of the crisis.

“The UN’s appeal to meet the immediate emergency needs in Pakistan is currently only 64 per cent funded and this appeal was prepared before the full scale of the flooding became clear. International donors do need to provide more funding to help people in Pakistan get the shelter, clean water and food they desperately need,” says Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

“This is a huge disaster and it demands a huge international response. The international community must support the people of Pakistan by providing greater funding for emergency needs and by freezing Pakistan’s international debt,” Mr Hewett says.

For more media information please contact:

For Oxfam Australia: Kate Thwaites 0407 515 559
For World Vision Australia: Dominic McInerney 0428 584 809
For The Fred Hollows Foundation: David Britton 0411 743 320