Pakistani president finally visits flood-affected areas

Pakistani president finally visits flood-affected areas
# 12 August 2010 20:59 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. After days of criticism over his absence from Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari finally got a firsthand look Thursday at the destruction and suffering caused by torrential monsoon rains and subsequent flooding, APA reports quoting CNN.
Zaradri’s trip Thursday to Sukkur, on the banks of the bloated Indus River, came after public disapproval of his trip to England and France as the crisis was unfolding and a perceived lack of government response.
Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, meanwhile visited Balochistan province Thursday and defended the government’s actions, the Associated Press of Pakistan said. Gilani said the Pakistan would divert money dedicated to development projects to aid flood-affected people.
"The people of Pakistan have the resilience to overcome any challenge," Gilani said. "Though it is the worst natural calamity in 80 years due to its widespread impact, they will face it with courage."
But in areas of neighboring Sindh province the Indus River was expected to crest Thursday, bringing fresh misery to a nation where torrential rains have snatched lives and livelihoods.
The waters of the Indus could spread even further, damaging more crops and infrastructure. The Pakistani meteorological department put the likelihood of the river reaching flood level at "very high to exceptionally high."
From the Swat Valley in the north to Sindh province in the south, as many as 15 million Pakistanis have been affected by the massive flooding. By Thursday, the death toll had risen to 1,343, the Pakistan Disaster Authority said.
It said 1,588 people have been injured and 352,291 people have been rescued. More than 722,600 houses and 4,600 villages have been damaged or destroyed.
Public health officials feared a second wave of deaths caused by water-borne diseases if action is not taken fast enough. More than 1 million people were in need of clean water.
People are forced to drink ground water and from wells, streams and springs contaminated by human waste and dead animals, said Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian operation.
He also said the cost to restore Pakistan’s agriculture sector, including its infrastructure, will be steep.
"It’s too early to give an exact number. The recovery cost will most likely be in the billions," he told CNN.
Many Pakistanis now face severe food shortages, and aid agencies stepped up appeals for global assistance. The United Nations launched a flash appeal for $460 million in humanitarian assistance, and the United States pledged another $20 million on top of the $35 million already pledged.
The Pakistani military has 55 helicopters and 621 boats taking part in aid and rescue efforts.
John Holmes, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the disaster is "one of the most challenging that any country has faced in recent years."
Although the death toll is lower, the 15 million people affected are more than those affected in the 2005 Pakistan earthquakes, the 2004 Indonesia tsunami and the January earthquake in Haiti combined.
Also Thursday, Britain, which has earmarked up to $50 million for the Pakistan disaster, announced that a shipment of aid is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad this week. That includes 1,000 more tents, 9,032 kits to provide shelter for 50,000 people, 24,000 water containers, and 48,625 blankets.