President Asif Ali Zardari urged Pakistanis to mark the anniversary of the country’s birth today by helping the millions displaced by its worst ever floods that have killed 1,600 people and savaged the economy.
“The best way to celebrate the Independence Day this year is to reach out to the victims of this natural disaster, heal their wounds and help them to help themselves,” Zardari said in an e-mailed statement. The president was criticized by the opposition for continuing a tour of Europe as the floods spread, destroying communication networks and ruining thousands of acres of agricultural land.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan today to gauge the needs of the 14 million people displaced. The UN said late yesterday it has received only 20 percent of the $460 million it needs to provide emergency aid to the homeless and hungry.
While Ban will land a day after relief and weather officials said river levels were falling in the central province of Punjab, fears of disease outbreaks and a monsoon season that runs through August add urgency to the relief operation.
“Relief supplies must reach women, men, and children as soon as possible, in order to avoid further death caused by waterborne diseases and food shortages,” Martin Mogwanja, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, said on the UN website.
The disaster in Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous nation, is occurring 63 years after the country was carved off from India when both nations gained independence from British colonial rule. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan faces grave challenges included rehabilitating flood refugees, fighting terrorism and lifting an aid-dependent economy.
“Terrorists and extremists are out to impose their exclusive and conservative agenda on the peaceful Pakistani nation,” Gilani said in a statement. “Our national economy has been hit hard both by the ongoing war against terrorism and natural disasters.”
Pakistan’s army began its most concerted campaign to date against Islamic insurgents in its northwest in October and fighting has since spread to six of seven tribal agencies in the region. Militants have hit back with suicide bomb blasts and gun attacks on cities nationwide, killing hundreds of security personnel and civilians.
The floods may cut the nation’s economic growth in half, Pakistan’s Finance Secretary Salman Siddique said in an interview yesterday, with expansion falling up to 2.5 percentage points short of a 4.5 percent target.
Unprecedented destruction has led the World Bank to consider “reprogramming” $900 million at the Pakistani government’s request to deal with a disaster that’s had a worse impact than the earthquake of 2005, its President Robert Zoellick told reporters in Latvia yesterday.
As the scale of the disaster continues to unfold, the gap between needs on the ground and available resources is widening, the Geneva-based International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement said on its website.
The U.S. yesterday deployed three additional helicopters to Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan to help flood relief efforts, the State Department said in a statement from Washington. The helicopters were among 19 ordered to Pakistan on Aug. 11, the statement said.