Flooding worsens in Pakistan as UN chief appeals for more aid

By Ashraf Khan, AP
Sunday, August 15, 2010

UN chief appeals for aid in flood-hit Pakistan

SUKKUR, Pakistan — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to speed up assistance to flood-ravaged Pakistan on Sunday as the 20 million people made homeless grew increasingly desperate, and new torrents inundated villages.

Survivors fought over food being handed out from a relief vehicle close to the town of Sukkur in hard-hit Sindh province, ripping at each other’s clothes and causing such chaos that the distribution had to be abandoned, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

“The impatience of the people has deprived us of the little food that had come,” said Shaukat Ali, a flood victim waiting for food.

Pakistan’s worst floods ever have killed about 1,500 people and damaged 7.9 million acres (3.2 million hectares) of cotton, sugar cane and wheat crops. The International Monetary Fund has warned of dire economic consequences in a country already reliant on foreign aid to keep its economy afloat and one key to the U.S.-led war against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The world body has appealed for an initial $460 million to provide relief, but only 20 percent has been given.

U.N. chief Ban visited the country Sunday to see the flood zone and meet government leaders who have been criticized over their response to the disaster.

“I am here to see what more needs to be done and to urge the world community to speed up the assistance to the Pakistan people,” he said.

Waters five feet (1.5 meters) deep washed through Derra Allah Yar, a city of 300,000 people on the border of Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, said government official Salim Khoso. About 200,000 had fled the city.

“We have to feed them, but we don’t know how,” he said.

In a televised address to the nation Saturday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said 20 million were now homeless in nation of 180 million. Many of those will be able to return to their homes once floods have receded.

Authorities said more flood surges were coursing down the River Indus and other waterways in southern Sindh province, inundating hundreds of other villages. While local charities and international agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people with food, water, shelter and medical treatment, the scale of the disaster has meant that many millions have received little or no assistance.

The United Nations said the rate of diarrhea continued to increase among survivors. Cholera, which can spread rapidly after floods and other disasters, had also been detected in the northwest, where the floods first hit more than two weeks ago after exceptionally heavy monsoon rains.

“We are here like beggars,” said Mukhtar Ali, a 45-year-old accountant living on the side of a highway along with thousands of other people. “The last food we received was a small packet of rice yesterday and 15 of us shared that.”

The Pakistani government’s reputation — already shaky — has suffered during the crisis.

Ban met with President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been heavily criticized for going ahead with a trip to Europe just as the crisis was unfolding. Zardari has visited victims twice since returning, but images of him at a family-owned chateau while in France are likely to haunt his presidency.

The coming months are likely to see food shortages and inflation that could lead to protests, riots and more discontent with the government.

The United States has so far donated the most to the relief effort, at least $70 million, and has sent military helicopters to rescue stranded people and drop off food and water. Washington hopes the assistance will support a pivotal regional ally and help improve its image in the country — however marginally — as it seeks its support in the battle against militancy,

Two additional U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters arrived in Pakistan on Saturday to support flood relief efforts, the U.S. State Department said. That brings to seven the total number of aircraft in Pakistan from the USS Peleliu, which is positioned in international waters in the Arabian Sea.

In the northwest of the country, U.S. missiles killed 12 people Saturday in a Pakistani tribal region filled with Islamist insurgents bent on pushing Western troops out of neighboring Afghanistan. The strike was the first in several weeks.

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