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UN warns that Pakistani disaster is "far from over"

August 12, 2010

After being slammed for not being around when the worst floods in Pakistan's history hit, President Zardari has finally flown to the disaster zone. The UN has appealed for $460 million (360 million euros) in aid.

Villagers affected by the floods attempt to get their share of the relief supplies
Villagers affected by the floods attempt to get their share of the relief suppliesImage: AP

Two weeks after the floods struck, the extent of the catastrophe remains unclear. Hundreds of roads and bridges have been destroyed, making it difficult to reach the flooded areas by anything but air. The US military has tripled the number of its helicopters in Pakistan to help with the relief efforts.

On Wednesday, John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, appealed for help from the member states of the United Nations in New York.

"Ladies and gentlemen, assessment of losses or damages are still underway as you can imagine but it's already very clear that these floods – the worst in Pakistan for over 80 years have caused and are continuing to cause immense destruction and immense suffering," he said gravely.

"Scale of disaster is horrendous"

Pakistan's UN ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon told the UN it was hard to confirm the number of deaths. "The scale of this disaster is horrendous," he stated." So far we have lost, in the three northern provinces, 4772 villages completely - just gone - that's why we don't know what the death toll is because we have no way of calculating at the moment."

Whole villages have been evacuated because of heavy flooding
Whole villages have been evacuated because of heavy floodingImage: AP

So far, it is known that at least 1,600 people have died and an estimated 14 million people are affected – some 8 percent of the Pakistani population.

Half of those affected need immediate emergency relief if they are to survive. They need food, clothes, shelter and clean drinking water. Moreover, they urgently need medical assistance "as the incidence of acute diarrhea and other water-borne diseases is rising worryingly," according to John Holmes.

"Cholera is also breaking out," Abdullah Hussain Haroon explained. "That is going to be very dangerous. Drinking water and sachets for purifying it are going to become very important over the next few days."

Death toll could rapidly rise

Even if the death toll from this disaster is not as high yet as from the 2004 tsunami or January's earthquake in Haiti, the UN has warned that disease and food shortages could fast become deadly if the urgent needs of the people are not attended to.

In Pakistan itself, despite President Zardari's visit to the flooded areas on Thursday, victims continued to complain about the slow response to the disaster.

Some 14 million Pakistanis are thought to be affected by the floods
Some 14 million Pakistanis are thought to be affected by the floodsImage: AP

This man in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa spoke for thousands when he spoke to reporters: "We have been on the roadside for the past 12 days, we need food and tents but we haven't received food or tents."

On Wednesday, John Holmes ended his appeal with a warning that the destruction was far from over: "Far from it. Having already affected the north of the country in late July and early August, the flood wave now continues to make its way through the southern province of Sindh where millions more are expected to suffer from the combined impact of continuing torrential rains."

Aid agencies are complaining that so far the donor response to the crisis has been poor.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Disha Uppal