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Pakistan issues fresh flood warning, calls for cash

by Staff Writers
Sukkur, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 11, 2010
Pakistan issued fresh flood warnings on Wednesday, putting parts of Punjab and Sindh on alert and calling on foreign donors to step up efforts to contain the country's worst humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations was to launch an international appeal in New York, calling for hundreds of millions of dollars to provide urgent assistance to six million people it says now depend on aid for survival.

Pakistan's government has admitted being unable to cope with the scale of the crisis and an outpouring of rage from survivors and the political opposition is compounding pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari.

Hardline Islamic charities have plugged some of the vacuum, leading to warnings within the United States about rising extremism in a country on the frontline of the US-led war on Al-Qaeda and key to the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban, which has been fighting the military in the tribal belt and last year in the cut-off northwestern Swat valley, has called on the government to turn down all foreign aid for the victims.

The meteorological service warned of floods in Hyderabad district, which could spread devastation further south in Sindh province, and issued a "significant" flood forecast for Kalabagh and Chashma in Punjab.

Local governments in both provinces, considered the breadbasket of Pakistan, also issued warnings about more flooding in the days ahead, although the chief minister in Sindh acknowledged that the immediate danger had passed.

Punjab officials said more than 90 percent of the town of Kot Addu had emptied and that flooding had cut electricity and gas production, shutting down thousands of factories.

The chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, told a small group of reporters that up to 3.5 million people could be affected in the province, although loss of life had been negligible.

"Up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) of Indus Highway is inundated and has been closed. The initial rough estimates show that losses of 35 billion rupees (411 million dollars), excluding crops, have been suffered by Sindh," he said.

"I think the actual losses will be much higher. We feel that without substantial foreign assistance it will be difficult for Sindh and rest of the country to redevelop and rehabilitate its people.

"What we need is substantial foreign aid and not peanuts. The aid being pledged so far is peanuts and not enough to meet the enormous challenge ahead.

"The immediate danger is almost over, but we are concerned about the next possible big wave of flooding, as predicted by the Met department.

"If it is progressive flow it should be fine, but if it comes at once then it will be a trouble."

Pakistan says 14 million people are facing direct or indirect harm, while the United Nations has warned that children are among the most vulnerable victims, with diarrhoea the biggest health threat and measles a concern.

The World Food Programme said it was trying to get help to up to six million survivors at a cost of 150 million dollars and expected to reach out to two million by the end of the month.

But the Pakistani Taliban has condemned the aid effort and offered to cough up 20 million dollars on its own, without any indication it could pay.

"We condemn American and other foreign aid and believe that it will lead to subjugation. Our jihad against America will continue," spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP by telephone.

The United States announced Tuesday it would increase its flood aid by another 20 million dollars to 55 million dollars. The United Nations believes 1,600 people have died in the floods while Pakistan has confirmed 1,243 deaths.

At the Pakistani military base of Ghazi, US Major Mark Geeting said US military helicopter crews had evacuated 2,305 people so far and supplied relief goods including water, rice, flour and meal packages.

But critics say the official relief effort has been woefully slow.

Anthony Cordesman, who has advised the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the floods represent "a major opportunity" for Islamist groups to win further influence among people denied government services.

"If we have to deal with a radicalised Pakistan, that raises the threat that is posed by terrorism by several orders of magnitude," said Cordesman, an expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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