Kerry: Aid to stabilise Pakistan

2010-08-30 16:04

Jampur - Flood-stricken Pakistan urgently needs more international aid to combat potential instability and extremism, influential US Senator John Kerry said, as hunger and disease threaten millions of victims.

In a commentary in the International Herald Tribune, Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the international community was not meeting its responsibilities towards Pakistan, where floods have killed more than 1 600 people and left at least six million homeless.

"The danger of the floods extends beyond a very real humanitarian crisis," Kerry wrote in Monday's edition.

"A stable and secure Pakistan, based on democracy and the rule of law, is in all of our interests. Pakistan has made enormous strides in combating extremism and terrorism - at great sacrifice. But its ability to keep up the fight requires an effective response to this crisis."

Pakistan has struggled with its response to the massive flooding, which has left one-fifth of the country under water, an area the size of Italy.

Pakistanis have grown increasingly angry with the sluggish government response, and are turning to Islamist charities, some of them tied to militant groups.

"We don't want politicians. We want the Islamic groups in power. The government just steals," said Haidar Ali, a university student in the devastated Swat Valley, whose life has been reduced to laying bricks all day in stifling heat.

US worries

The US worries that the battle against Islamist militants may have got harder in Pakistan, with a weakened administration battling economic meltdown and public anger.

Kerry is a co-sponsor of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package, which would funnel $7.5bn over five years in civilian development money to Pakistan.

Last week, the head of the US Agency for International Development said $50m from the package would be diverted to immediate flood relief.

The floods began in late July after torrential monsoon downpours over the upper Indus basin in the northwest.

In Jampur, in southern Punjab, about 500km south west of Islamabad, waters have begun to recede but thousands of people still live in relief camps.

"In about two weeks' time, when the river returns to normal, that's when we expect movement in the population (to go home)," Brigadier Zahid Usman said.

The village of Kot Bodla, outside Jampur, has been cut off for a month, and is still accessible only by boat.

Livelihoods destroyed

"The cotton crop was almost ready," said Abdul Ghafar, a farmer. "It just needed another three weeks, but the water destroyed it."

He added that he did not believe they would be able to sow their winter wheat crop now, which both supplies the village's food needs and gives them something to sell.

Further south in Thatta, in Sindh, the flooding that threatened the city of 300 000 has been largely stanched, said Saleh Farooqi, director general in Sindh for National Disaster Management Authority, but Sajwal to the east is under water.

"There has not been a substantial relief but things have improved," he said. "Water is still flowing but the speed and levels are reducing. It will take another four to five days for things to improve further."

The death toll from the flooding was expected to rise significantly as the bodies of the many missing people are found. There is no official estimate of the number of missing because mass displacements have made accounting for them almost impossible.

The United Nations said aid workers were increasingly worried about disease and hunger, especially among children, in areas where even before the disaster acute malnutrition was high.

The receding floods have left behind huge pools of stagnant water, which in turn are breeding disease. UN officials say an estimated 72 000 children, affected by severe malnutrition, were at high risk of dying.