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Pakistan Waives Loans as Floods Hit 14 Million People

Southern Pakistan Braces for More Floods
Flood victims, escaping rising waters, scramble to alight a Pakistan Army helicopter during air rescue operations by the Pakistan Army on August 9, 2010 in the Muzaffargarh district in Punjab, Pakistan. Photographer: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Pakistan will waive farm loans and help rebuild homes for victims of the country’s most destructive flood as the government and aid agencies acknowledge they are unable to reach or assist many of the 14 million uprooted so far.

The government will announce a comprehensive rehabilitation package once it completes a survey of lives lost and damage to property, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan cited Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as saying yesterday. A cross-party committee will be set up to coordinate relief activities, he said, after visiting relief camps in Muzaffargarh and Layyah.

Officials in Hyderabad, an industrial city of more than 1.6 million people, evacuated residents from low-lying areas as the Indus River threatened to breach the Kotri Barrage, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) northwest from the city center. About 1,600 people are known to have died in Pakistan, and hundreds more in India and Afghanistan, from the flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains, officials in the three countries say.

“God forbid that the dam should break because we have two to two-and-a-half million people in and around Hyderabad who are at risk,” said Aftab Ahmed Khatri, the city administrator. “We are shifting people from the riverside to relief camps,” he said in a telephone interview.

The flood has submerged an area as large as Lebanon, overwhelming relief efforts by the government and UN agencies. In Baluchistan province, “our stockpiles are nearly exhausted,” and trucks hauling tents have been blocked for a week by flooded roads, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in an e-mailed message. In the northwest, the death toll may rise sharply as more bodies are discovered, Mujahid Khan of the Edhi rescue service said from Peshawar, the region’s main city.

‘Worst Disaster’

With more than 10,000 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) of Pakistan under water, the agency has delivered tents to communities that have no land on which to pitch them, UNHCR said.

The flood is “Pakistan’s worst natural disaster” since the country’s creation 63 years ago, and has set back the nation’s development by many years, according to Gilani. The United States and Islamic militant groups, both pushing for influence in the world’s sixth-most populous country, have sent teams to help homeless villagers in areas of the ethnic Pashtun northwest that for the past two years have been combat zones.

The Pakistani Taliban urged the government not to accept any foreign aid, Associated Press reported, citing spokesman Azam Tariq. The Taliban would themselves provide money if the government stopped accepting international help, the report said.

Gas Field

Pakistan’s Qadirpur gas field, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s natural gas output, has had one of its 41 wells shut by the floods, Basharat Mirza, general manager for operations at operator Oil & Gas Development Co., said by phone from Islamabad.

Officials say the flood’s worst damage may be done at Hyderabad, Pakistan’s sixth-largest city, and the biggest population center directly on the 3,200-kilometer long Indus River. The city is home to textile mills and assembly plants for motorcycles and cars.

Along with Karachi, the port city and financial capital 175 kilometers to the southwest, Hyderabad has been repeatedly damaged by floods, in part because of poor urban drainage systems, according to a February report by the National Disaster Management Authority.

Still, the annual monsoon flooding has been relatively minor in recent years, said Khatri, the Hyderabad administrator, leading impoverished residents to build cheap mud-brick homes on the Indus flood-plain that officials are now evacuating. The Indus may risk breaching the Kotri Barrage today, said a warning on the website of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Donor Pledges

Cotton, rice, sugarcane and maize crops have been damaged and fruit orchards have been washed away, putting at risk the government’s farm output growth target of 3.8 percent for the year that started July 1.

The floods have destroyed 30 percent of the cotton crop, according to Khursheed Ahmed Khan Kanjo, president of the Pakistan Kissan Board, a farmers’ group. The government will miss its target of producing 14 million bales of cotton and may need to increase imports, he said.

Flooding also damaged 20 percent of the rice crop in Sindh, said Abdul Majeed Nizamani, president of the Sindh Abadgar Board. Half the red chilli and tomato plantations and 70 percent of the onion crop were also damaged.

Aid to Children

The UN Children’s Fund is planning to deliver 4.2 million packets of oral rehydration salts and 2.1 million doses of zinc to children in Pakistan to prevent a potential outbreak of measles, the UN said. Donors have so far provided $38.2 million to the UN and its partners and pledged a further $90.9 million, the world body said.

The U.S. yesterday pledged an additional $20 million in emergency aid, bringing its total promised to $55 million, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn has told Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari “that the Fund stands ready to discuss how to help Pakistan manage the economic impact of the floods and Fund staff have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts,” spokesman Raphael Anspach said.

“Support from the international community will be critical,” Anspach said in an e-mailed statement.

Floods have left many areas beyond outside help or communication, knocking out cell phone towers and ripping away roads. Thousands are without electricity after grid stations and transformers collapsed, Pakistani television reported.

The floods first struck the western province of Baluchistan on July 22 before inundating the worst-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and then entering Punjab and Sindh.

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