United Nations (AFP) Aug 26, 2010
The United Nations pledged Thursday to forge ahead with relief operations in Pakistan's worst-ever floods despite Taliban threats to attack foreign humanitarian workers.
"We will not be deterred from doing what we believe we need to do, which is to help the people of Pakistan," John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, told a news conference at the world body's headquarters.
"Those threats existed before the floods and we've always known that the security issues are there," he said.
Holmes said that the United Nations would take "appropriate precautions."
"Even if the security situation has been relatively calm in the last few weeks, we will obviously take these threats seriously as we did before," Holmes said.
US officials have reported threats by the Taliban to attack foreigners involved in relief in Pakistan, where floods have submerged one-fifth of the nation and affected more than 17 million people.
"We have information of the potential targeting of foreign relief workers in Pakistan, as well as government ministries," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.
Crowley pointed specifically to the extremist group Tehreek-e-Taliban and voiced concerns that its militants may attack foreigners or government institutions involved in relief efforts.
"I think it just underscores the bankrupt vision that these extremists have," Crowley said.
He said that the United States -- the top donor to relief efforts with more than 150 million dollars in contributions -- was working with Pakistani authorities to handle the threat.
"We are talking to and working with the government of Pakistan to do everything we can to make sure that disaster response and Pakistan's disaster response can continue in light of this threat," he said.
The United States is hoping that its response to the flood crisis will help ease anti-Americanism in Pakistan, a key priority nation for Washington in its international campaign against Islamic extremism.
Some hardline Islamic groups have tried to play a prominent role in flood relief, seizing on discontent over the initial reaction by Pakistan's civilian government.
earlier related report
"We're looking at all options in terms of how we can assist Pakistan in the midst of this tragedy," said International Monetary Fund spokesman Gerry Rice, raising also the specter of an emergency loan to help it cope with the crisis.
"There is also the possibility of providing financing through an emergency response to natural disasters, that has been used in the past for countries facing the consequences of these events, Rice said.
"These discussions are ongoing, they're very active," he said as Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh joined his team Thursday in the talks with IMF on steps to help Islamabad cope with its worst humanitarian disaster.
The floods have already affected more than 17 million people and left eight million dependent on aid to survive. Nearly half a million people were asked Thursday to evacuate towns due to rising waters.
Shaikh will ask the IMF to restructure the current loan or consider new financing in the talks expected to continue up to next week, Pakistan officials had said.
Even before the floods there had been speculation that Pakistan might seek a new loan agreement with the IMF.
But in light of the natural disaster, Islamabad now fears it will not be able to meet key IMF-set targets on inflation and budget deficit levels.
The IMF in 2008 approved a 7.61-billion-dollar rescue package for Pakistan as the country struggled to cope with bloody attacks by Islamic radicals, 30-year-high inflation and fast-depleting reserves.
It was augmented to 10.66 billion dollars last year under the program that was extended to end in 2010.
So far, Pakistan has received about 7.27 billion dollars from the IMF loan.
Global rating agency Standard & Poor's meanwhile said Pakistan's sovereign credit rating would not be immediately impacted, expressing confidence the IMF would ease the loan financing terms.
"Financial support from the international community should ensure that the sovereign's credit metrics remain commensurate with the rating in the short term," S&P said in a statement.
Pakistan's "B-/Stable/C" rating "is not immediately affected by large-scale flooding in the country," it said.
"The extenuating circumstances of the catastrophe will be sufficient reason for the International Monetary Fund to consider relaxing its stand-by arrangement program targets and offer additional assistance to Pakistan under a different scheme," S&P said.
It also expected multilateral organizations and donor countries to be compelled to speed up the disbursal of funds promised prior to the floods and likely increase their commitment of financial support for Pakistan.
Beyond the immediate horizon, S&P said that maintaining political stability would be "the key factor" influencing the rating.
It warned that an "insufficient or mismanaged" aid effort could ignite social and political instability in Pakistan, leading to further fiscal slippages and macroeconomic instability.
"In such circumstances the rating and outlook would be reviewed, with the likelihood of downward movement."
The Pakistani government has confirmed that 1,600 people have been killed and 2,366 wounded, but officials warn that millions are at risk from diseases and food shortages.
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Pakistan orders nearly half a million to evacuate
Thatta, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 27, 2010
Flood-ravaged Pakistan ordered nearly half a million people to evacuate towns Thursday as the United Nations vowed to forge ahead with relief operations despite threats against foreign aid workers. Torrential monsoon rains triggered massive floods affecting a fifth of the volatile country - an area roughly the size of England - where US officials have reported threats by the Taliban. B ... read more
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