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U.N., U.S. Officials Highlight Enormity of Pakistan Flooding

August 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The situation in Pakistan grew more desperate today, nearly three weeks after the flooding began. More than 1,500 people have died. Millions are homeless. U.N. and U.S. officials today highlighted the enormity of the disaster, saying it now tops the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and this year’s Haiti earthquake combined.

Flood victims stand in line for hours at a relief camp, waiting for food and water.

WAZIRAN BEGUM, flood victim (through translator): We are receiving food sometimes, but sometimes we miss out. We have small kids, and we wonder, how will we provide food for them? We don’t have any jobs, and they are only handing out food once a day.

JIM LEHRER: And there will be more coming into these camps, as thousands try to escape the swollen rivers by any means possible. Waterborne diseases like cholera are a major health risk. In Punjab, relatives buried a man who died trying to save his family.

WAQAS AHMED, flood victim (through translator): His son and wife both were stuck in floodwaters, so he went to rescue them, but the floodwaters were too high and the current was strong. That’s why he didn’t survive.

JIM LEHRER: Many Pakistanis say their government is not doing enough to help.

ISMAIL KHAN, flood victim (through translator): Our houses were totally destroyed when the water came. Drinking water is not clean, which causes illness to our children. We haven’t gotten anything from the government. We have only one tent to live in.

JIM LEHRER: At the United Nations today, the U.S. and other countries pledged more money to speed up humanitarian assistance.

U.S SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: With a new pledge that I am making today of $60 million, the United States will be contributing more than $150 million toward emergency flood relief.

JIM LEHRER: The international efforts come amid warnings from Pakistan’s leaders that militant Islamic groups are gaining a new foothold by stepping up their aid to the distressed.

Pakistani President Zardari raised those concerns today before he and Senator John Kerry toured some of the worst-hit areas and visited a relief camp.

ASIF ALI ZARDARI, Pakistani president: There is a possibility that some the negative forces will exploit the situation, this need of time, that they will exploit them to their own advantage.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-Mass.), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman: None of us want to see this crisis provide an opportunity or an excuse for people who want to exploit the misfortune of others for political or ideological purposes.

JIM LEHRER: The U.S. has already deployed 18 Army helicopters to Pakistan and given other aid worth $90 million. <-->