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Pakistan warns of new floods in south

Europe wakes up to Pakistani disaster
Berlin (UPI) Aug 24, 2010 - As more Western aid is being sent to Pakistan, experts wonder why Europe has been so slow to help the millions of people suffering as a result of the floods. The numbers are devastating. The United Nations says 17 million people are affected by the floods in Pakistan. Millions are left homeless, suffer from hunger and thirst or have become ill due to poor hygiene. Thomas Schwarz has experienced the horrors of the Pakistani floods. The head of the Luxembourg unit of aid group Care just returned from a 2-week trip through the crisis region. There, he met a 75-year-old man desperate for shoes. He talked to a woman who can't afford the bus ticket to take her 4-year-old child, injured by the floods, to a hospital. And he met a pregnant woman displaced from her home. Sleeping in the woods with around 120 people as well as dozens of animals, she has no idea how to give birth to her child.

"This is the reality on the ground," Schwarz, visibly moved, said Tuesday in Berlin. "The Pakistani people are suffering. They need food or they'll starve. And they need clean water and medication." Critics say the West, usually a first-rate donor, has been slow to react to the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations said Aug. 19, three weeks after the floods began, that less than $230 million had been pledged for Pakistan. In contrast, Europe alone had committed $1 billion in aid to Haiti only 10 days after the earthquake hit the country this year. The United Nations last week urged governments to raise more cash and, to be fair, aid efforts stepped up significantly over the past few days.

The European Commission said in a statement released Monday that pledges from the EU executive and the member states were boosted again and now total more than $250 million. Brussels added the EU humanitarian department acted "extremely quickly" in response to the floods. Britain tops the European aid list with $84 million, followed by $30 million from Germany and $18 million from Sweden, the commission said. Private donations in Germany had been slow initially but they are now coming quicker, aid groups say. "Germany Helps," an alliance of German aid groups that includes Care, said Tuesday it had received private donations totaling around $18 million, with the number of all private donations from Germany amounting to at least $30 million.

These are by no means insignificant amounts but they pale when compared with the response to past humanitarian crises. Experts have linked the donation fatigue in Europe to a growing Islamophobia, the economic crisis, fears that the aid disappears in the pockets of corrupt politicians and the fact that many Westerners associate Pakistan with al-Qaida and terrorism. Yet those feelings and concerns should be put aside at the moment, Schwarz said. "Let's talk about corruption and terrorism in a year, after we have helped the millions of people there," he said, adding that doing so will require a strong international effort and some stamina. While the waters may soon recede, reconstruction, Schwarz said, will cost billions of dollars and take several years.
by Staff Writers
Hyderabad, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 24, 2010
Pakistan faces a critical risk of yet more flooding in the next three days in its fertile southern plains, officials warned on Tuesday, as a major river threatened to burst its banks.

The worst natural disaster in the country's history has already affected 20 million people in nearly a month of flooding triggered by heavy monsoon rain, and left 1,500 dead by official count.

Five million people have been made homeless across the country but that figure could surge higher if the swollen Indus river, whose fast-moving waters are piling pressure on sagging embankments, continues to fill up.

"The next two to three days are very critical and we will have to strictly monitor the situation in the towns near the mouth of Indus river, which will have exceptionally high levels," Sindh province irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo told AFP.

He said thousands of irrigation officials had been deployed to strengthen river barriers at high-risk spots near the teeming city of Hyderabad, but a full moon this week would fasten water flows and increase the risk of flood.

Pakistan's chief meteorologist Arif Mehmood confirmed the risk remained high in the south, while waters had receded in hard-hit Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmir provinces, leaving huge needs in their wake.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said more than 3.5 million children were at risk from disease, with more than 200 health centres water damaged and a third of a total of 100,000 female health workers displaced from their homes.

"As human misery continues to mount, we are seriously concerned about the spread of epidemic diseases," Gilani told a meeting of health experts.

"There is likelihood of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery, especially in children who are already weak and vulnerable," he said.

Millions who saw their homes wiped out are surviving on aid handouts and are in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water.

Under-fire President Asif Ali Zardari has warned his crippled nuclear-armed nation, a key United States ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, could take years to recover.

"Your guess is as good as mine but three years is a minimum," Zardari told reporters on Monday when asked how long it would take Pakistan to go through relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

"I don't think Pakistan will ever fully recover but we will move on," the president said, adding that the government -- strongly criticised for its slow response -- was working to protect people from similar disasters in future.

The UN estimates 4.8 million people have been made homeless.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas close to Hyderabad, a city of 2.5 million people on the lower reaches of the Indus, where at least 36 nearby villages have been swept away.

Dozens of volunteers could be seen in the outskirts of Hyderabad on Tuesday manning bulldozers and cranes, while others used shovels and hammers, to reinforce battered river embankments with broken bricks, stones and sandbags.

Three hundred miles (480 kilometres) from Hyderabad, authorities continued to battle to save Shahdadkot from the surging waters, after most the city's 100,000 residents had been escorted to safety or made a hasty getaway.

Global aid pledges, which have been slow coming, have now topped 700 million dollars amid fears that losses as a result of the floods could reach 43 billion dollars.

On Tuesday the president's office said the government planned to distribute 20,000 Pakistani rupees (234 US dollars) to each flood-affected family.

Pakistan officials are in talks with the International Monetary Fund 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.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will meet his European counterparts in Brussels next month to seek greater trade access for Pakistani goods in a bid to alleviate financial hardship caused by the disaster, the president's office said.

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.

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