UN appeals for quick Pakistan aid

August 15, 2010 12:00 am

, ISLAMABAD, Aug 15 – UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged the world to quicken aid for up to 20 million people hit by Pakistan\’s worst humanitarian crisis as he flew in to visit areas ravaged by record floods.

The United Nations has appealed for 460 million dollars to deal with the immediate aftermath of the floods but has warned that billions will be required in the long term with villages, businesses, crops and infrastructure wiped out.

Pakistan\’s weak civilian government has appealed to the international community to help it cope with the challenges of a crisis that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has compared to the 1947 partition of the sub-continent.

Ban arrived on a Pakistan Air Force jet at Chaklala air base, sweeping into talks with Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, before flying over some of the worst affected areas of central province Punjab.

"I\’m here also to urge the world community to speed up their assistance to the Pakistani people," he told reporters.

He said he would report back to the UN General Assembly first thing this week and "we will try to mobilise all necessary assistance and remember that the whole world is behind the people of Pakistan in this time of tria l".

Ban later flew over devastated areas in Punjab, the breadbasket of Pakistan, and met survivors at a relief camp in Muzaffargarh, where people are now returning after the flood danger passed, local officials said.

Around a quarter of the country appears to have been affected by the flooding, officials estimate.

Some of the worst-hit areas are in the volatile northwest, where Taliban militants have been locked in fighting with Pakistani troops, and the wealthiest and agriculturally most important areas of Punjab and Sindh.

Fresh foods hit the southwestern province of Baluchistan overnight, devastating hundreds of villages and causing tens of thousands to flee, said Sher Khan Bazai, the commissioner in the town of Jaffarabad.

"The situation is grim. I saw people sheltering on the roofs of trucks and buses as bridges and roads have been washed away," Bazai said, adding that authorities had only one helicopter and four boats for rescue missions.

UN agencies and aid groups say the response to the international appeal has been sluggish, warning of a second wave of death from disease with at least six million now dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive.

The nuclear-armed country of 167 million is on the front line of the US-led fight against Al-Qaeda and Western governments have traced overseas terror plots back to Taliban and Al-Qaeda camps in the lawless tribal mountains.

"The floods affected some 20 million people, destroyed standing crops and food storages worth billions of dollars, causing colossal loss to national economy," Gilani said in a televised address on Saturday.

"Outbreak of epidemics in the flood-hit areas is a serious threat, which can further compound the already grave situation," Gilani said.

The United Nations estimates that 14 million have been affected and that 1,600 have died. The government in Islamabad has confirmed 1,384 deaths.

In the south, officials called on the city of Jacobabad to evacuate, saying 90 percent of residents had already fled as waters reached its outskirts, although the meteorological service expects the floods to ease from Monday.

Jacobabad was practically deserted with scores of vehicles stranded on the flooded main road from the south, an AFP photographer said.

The United Nations has confirmed the country\’s first cholera case in Mingora, in the northwestern district of Swat, and said at least 36,000 people were reportedly suffering from acute diarrhoea.

Charities said relief for those affected by the worst natural disaster in Pakistan\’s history was lagging far behind what was needed.

"Clearly at this point in time the overall relief effort cannot keep pace with the overall scale of the emergency," said Jacques de Maio, South Asia head of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Humanitarian agencies were monitoring the risk of "a second wave of deaths induced by the floods in the shape of water-borne diseases", de Maio said.


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