The U.S. is relying on the military to funnel meals, prefabricated bridges and medical supplies to Pakistan’s flood victims, even as American troops fight a war in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. State Department officials said yesterday that flood aid to Pakistan would increase by $20 million, to a total $55 million, to help the estimated 14 million people uprooted by country’s worst natural disaster in 80 years.
The Obama administration sees Pakistan’s cooperation as vital to defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda and wants to counter Pakistani suspicions about the U.S. commitment to the region. In a poll released last month by the Pew Research Center in Washington, almost 60 percent of Pakistanis said they consider the U.S. to be an enemy.
As the flood, which has killed 1,600 people, offers an opportunity to demonstrate support, U.S. military leaders are examining how best to provide aid and still fulfill the mission in Afghanistan.
“We will find a way, if we are needed, to balance both needs,” Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an Aug. 5 Pentagon briefing.
The U.S. military has exercised its capabilities for humanitarian relief many times before, including during Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake, the Asian tsunami the same year and more recently for search, rescue, aid and reconstruction in the aftermath of Haiti’s January earthquake.
The flood in Pakistan surged south yesterday toward Hyderabad, the biggest city in its path. Officials in the industrial city of more than 1.6 million people evacuated residents from low-lying areas.
The Pakistani government and aid agencies said they aren’t able to reach or help many of the millions of people affected.
“It is a major international humanitarian crisis that the world must rally to,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters at the State Department on Aug. 9.
The United Nations plans to launch an emergency appeal for aid to Pakistan today, led by John Holmes, the emergency relief coordinator and undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. Six million people need direct humanitarian assistance, 290,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged and 2 million people need shelter, the UN said in a statement.
Other than the U.S., donor countries include Australia, China, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Norway and the UK, according to Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“The donor response has been strong,” Bunker said. “We are very concerned about the financing for longer-term impact, rebuilding roads and bridges and helping people get back on their feet.”
“The ability to reach the victims requires a mobility that only the military can provide,” Schneider said.
Raj Shah, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Aug. 4 that the military will play a “critical part” in the U.S. response. “The fact that they have a large cohort of planners and assessors is very important,” he said.
The American military has helped deliver 436,000 meals prepared according to Muslim religious requirements, 12 prefabricated bridges, 14 rescue boats and six large-scale water-filtration units, the State Department said.
Last week, the military sent in four CH-47 helicopters and two UH-60s, flying 18 sorties on one day to ferry 66,000 pounds of relief supplies and evacuate 800 people, Morrell told reporters at the Pentagon.
The U.S., through this fiscal year, has paid Pakistan about $12.5 billion in security assistance since fiscal 2002, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The biggest category is $8 billion in so- called Coalition Support Funds that reimburse Pakistan for spending in the joint fight against terrorism.
By the end of fiscal 2010, on Sept. 30, Pakistan will have also received about $6 billion in U.S. development and humanitarian aid since 2001, according to the June report by the research service, which serves the U.S. Congress. The aid includes funds from a 2009 bill passed by Congress that allocates $1.5 billion annually for five years.
Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that to his knowledge the U.S.-assisted rescue efforts in Pakistan aren’t interfering with U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.
“What is impacting our operations is the weather -- the weather associated with the flooding is also impacting parts of Afghanistan,” such as flight operations, he said.