Pakistan president warns flood recovery could take years
Karachi (AFP) Aug 24, 2010
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari warned the country could take three years or more to recover from near-month long floods as authorities battled to protect cities from rising waters.
The floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country's worst natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever present in the camps sheltering survivors.
"Your guess is as good as mine, but three years is a minimum," Zardari told reporters when asked how long it would take Pakistan to go through relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation after the floods.
"I don't think Pakistan will ever fully recover but we will move on," the president added, saying the government was working to protect people from future flooding.
Zardari was denounced for failing to cut short a visit to Europe at the start of the disaster, and while he defended that decision, he acknowledged that some criticism of the government's response was justified.
"There will always be a 'could have been better, would have been better, should have been better'... (but) you have to understand how enormous the issue (the scale of the disaster) is," he said.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas in the south since Saturday, including most of the 100,000 residents in the city of Shahdadkot which authorities were battling to protect.
Dozens of villages around Shahdadkot were inundated, district administration official Yasin Shar told AFP, as flood waters threatened the city.
Nearly 90 percent of people living in the area had left and the remaining were being rushed out, he said.
On Sunday Sindh provincial irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said that urgent efforts were being made to save the city from the "unprecedented flood" by reinforcing an embankment built to protect it.
Similar efforts were being made to save Hyderabad, a city of 2.5 million people on the lower reaches of the Indus river, where at least 36 surrounding villages have been swept away.
At least 20 people were killed meanwhile Monday when a bus with 50 people on board overturned in strong currents near Khad Buzdar village in central Pakistan.
Pakistani officials held talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington amid reports Islamabad was asking the fund to ease the terms of a loan worth nearly 11 billion dollars.
Last week Pakistani officials said Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh would ask the IMF to restructure the current loan or consider new financing.
There are fears that losses as a result of the floods could reach 43 billion dollars.
Pakistan's weak civilian government has faced an outpouring of fury over sluggish relief efforts.
Millions of survivors are in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water and require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.
Disaster management officials say that the scale of the flooding is much larger than Pakistan's 2005 earthquake, which killed 73,000 people and made 3.3 million homeless.
Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Islamabad, told AFP that 1.5 million people were being treated for everything from respiratory and skin infections to diarrhoea.
A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Saleem Rehmat, told a news conference in Islamabad that the floods in Sindh province had affected 3.9 million people, 80 percent of whom had been displaced.
The United Nations said contributions and pledges totalling 317.6 million, almost 70 percent of the 459.7 million dollars offered in response to its appeals, had so far been received for relief activities.
Louis-Georges Arsenault, head of emergency operations for UNICEF, the UN children's fund, said the international community could contribute far more than it had so far.
earlier related report
In an interview with Western journalists, Zardari denied that the country's worst humanitarian disaster would impair the military's fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, conducted under US pressure in the northwest.
And while he welcomed international aid, which has been led by the United States, he called on Washington to make more efforts to win over hearts and minds from entrenched anti-Americanism, such as by reducing tariffs on cotton exports.
"Your guess is as good as mine, but three years is a minimum," Zardari told reporters Monday when asked how long it would take Pakistan to go through relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation after the floods.
"I don't think Pakistan will ever fully recover but we will move on," the president added, saying the government was working to protect people from potential future flooding.
"I cannot sit back and think that it might happen next monsoon, so I have to prepare myself and prepare the capability and capacities... In hindsight one is always more intelligent and smart than during the situation."
Nearly a month after Pakistan's worst natural disaster flooded a fifth of the country, survivors are still lashing out at the government over the lack of food, water and shelter, raising fears about social unrest.
"Yes there will be discontentment, there will be resentment, because expectations will be 'I want back whatever I've lost'," acknowledged Zardari.
"But surely we will try and meet up with them as much as we can and as far as we can we'll stretch the band aid to the maximum," he said.
Zardari was denounced at home for refusing to cut short a visit to France and Britain at the start of the disaster, and while he defended that decision, he acknowledged that some criticism of the government's response was justified.
"There will always be a 'could have been better, would have been better, should have been better... (but) you have to understand how enormous the issue (the scale of the disaster) is."
Concerns have been voiced in the United States that the floods could get in the way of the Pakistan military's fight against the Taliban -- deemed crucial to US-led efforts to defeat a nine-year insurgency in Afghanistan.
But Zardari, who is considered a weak head of state in a country ruled for more than half its existence by the military, with four generals seizing power since independence in 1947, insisted: "The fight goes on, on all fronts".
The president warned last week, after witnessing anger first hand from flood survivors in Punjab, that "negative forces" could exploit the tragedy.
Pakistan is trying to persuade Europe and the United States to lower tariffs on its textile goods in a bid to stimulate trade in the recession-hit economy.
"Hearts and minds is a long-term commitment. They have to be here long term and empower democracies much more by giving them access to the markets," he said.
"What I am disappointed with is the market access in America and Europe... the industrialisation that will take place and the people that I can employ and the people that will be employed is something that we need to do."
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Karachi (AFP) Aug 23, 2010
Authorities in Pakistan were battling on Monday to save a city in the flood-devastated southern province of Sindh after a mass evacuation as floodwaters threatened to wreak further havoc. The near month-long floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country's worst natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever-present in the miserable camps shelterin ... read more
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