World increases flood aid to Pakistan, US worried extremists may benefit from crisis

By Nahal Toosi, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

World ramps up flood aid to stricken Pakistan

GHAZI AIR BASE, Pakistan — The world ramped up assistance to flood-ravaged Pakistan on Thursday three weeks after the crisis began, and U.S. Sen. John Kerry said Washington did not want Islamist extremists to come out of the disaster stronger.

The U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia all announced new pledges of aid, while Japan said it would send helicopters to help distribute food, water and medicine. The Asian Development Bank said it would redirect $2 billion of existing and planned loans for reconstruction.

“If we don’t do it quick, if we don’t do it well, what will the Pakistani people think,” said Juan Miranda, the bank’s director general for Central and West Asia. “We have to put every road and every bridge back into the shape where they should be.”

The floods have affected 20 million people and about one-fifth of Pakistan’s territory, straining its civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaida and Taliban violence. Aid groups and the United Nations have complained foreign donors have not been quick or generous enough given the scale of the disaster.

The United States has deployed 18 army helicopters to hard-hit areas and given other aid worth $90 million.

Kerry, who is visiting Pakistan to see the flood damage, said that would increase to $150 million. The figure is expected to be announced at a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia said it would donate $80 million to Pakistan, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, making it one of the largest donors. The country has for years sought to project its influence in Pakistan and has funded the spread of hardline Islamic theology there.

Pakistan is vital for America’s strategic goals of defeating militancy and stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan so its troops can one day withdraw. Before the floods, Washington had already committed to spending $7.5 billion over the next five years in Pakistan.

The U.N. children’s fund said Pakistan will need international aid for several months to cope with the flood disaster, and relief workers urgently need cash donations, said Daniel Toole UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia.

Toole said Thursday parts of the country may remain flooded even after the rain stops and stagnant water increases the risk of malaria, diarrhea and cholera. UNICEF expects to raise its original appeal of $47 million fivefold to meet the increased needs, he said.

Recovering from the floods is likely to dominate the agenda of Pakistan’s army and government in coming months.

The state has been criticized for failing to respond quickly enough, and Islamist charities — at least one of which has alleged links to terrorism — have been active in the flood-hit areas. There are also concerns the extent of the suffering could stoke social unrest and lead to political instability that may impact Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban.

Kerry told reporters “we don’t want additional jihadists, extremists coming out of a crisis.”

He was speaking at Ghazi Air Base, a Pakistan military facility in the country’s northwest, after meeting U.S. military personnel taking part in helicopter relief missions.

The floods began in the northwest of the country after exceptionally heavy monsoon rains and have since swamped thousands of towns and villages in Punjab and Sindh provinces. While rainfall has lessened, flooding is continuing in parts of Sindh province as water from the north courses down the Indus and other rivers.

Local aid groups, the Pakistani army and international aid agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people with food, shelter, water and medical care, but the distribution has been chaotic and has not come close to reaching everyone.

Officials said the ancient ruined city and world heritage site Mohenjo Daro in the Larkana district was now at risk. “Our experts are also present at Mohenjo Daro to monitor the flood situation,” said government archaeologist Qasim Ali.

Mohenjo Daro’s structures, dating back to the third millennium B.C., are mostly made of unbaked brick and are vulnerable to flood damage.

Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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