Pakistanis Flee As More Towns Flood
Raging floodwaters have inundated more districts in southern Pakistan, where officials say the world has given or pledged more than $800 million to help the country cope with its natural disaster.
Pakistani authorities have diverted their resources and rescue operations toward southern parts of Sindh Province, where rising river waters have hit at least four more districts, including urban areas. The floods forced tens of thousands of people in the region to flee for higher ground.
Exceptionally heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan triggered the worst floods in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtoonkhawa Province three weeks ago. Raging floodwaters have since inundated thousands of villages and towns across central Punjab, southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces.
The United Nations appealed for nearly $460 million to meet the most urgent needs of the flood victims in Pakistan for the next three months. The initial response to the appeal was slow.
But Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad last week's U.N General Assembly's special session to discuss the flood-ravaged country's needs has led to an encouraging increase in the international aid.
"And the money already committed as $490 million. So that means we have crossed the (U.N) appeal figure (of 460)," said Qureshi. "Then there are additional pledges that are being made. If you put these two figures together the figure that comes to is $815,058,000. That is almost double than the figure that we were expecting."
The Pakistani foreign minister says his country is grateful for the international assistance. The United States has been the largest contributor. In addition to $150 million aid for flood victims, Washington has sent 19 helicopters to help Pakistan with relief efforts.
Foreign Minister Qureshi defended his government's decision to accept $5 million in assistance offered by rival India, with which Pakistan has fought three wars.
"Let us be realistic about things. Here we are appealing to the world to help Pakistan save lives. Children, women and Pakistanis are under threat because of cholera, because of water-born disease, and the world has come out to help Pakistan," he said. "Now India has offered assistance. And I think it was a positive gesture and we should have no remorse or regrets doing that [accepting the Indian aid]. This is a question of humanity, humanitarian assistance. So let us keep politics aside."
The worst floods in Pakistan's history have affected an estimated 20-million people with several million losing their homes. The natural disaster has caused widespread damage to crops, agricultural land, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure on one-fifth of Pakistan's territory.
The increasingly unpopular Pakistani government has been accused of moving too slowly to help the flood victims. Critics say it will come under increased pressure after floodwaters recede because millions of people will want the government to quickly rebuild their homes and compensation for the loss of crops as well as livestock.
Officials anticipate the floodwaters will recede nationwide in the next few days as the surge in the Indus River is expected to empty into the Arabian Sea.
Government officials say at least 1,600 people have died in flood-related incidents. But aid workers say poor hygiene, sanitation and stifling heat conditions in the disaster zone could trigger another wave of deaths.
Article by Ayaz Gul, VOA News