As deluge subsides, world scrambles to aid Pakistan

A flood survivor holds her child as she wade through the flooded area in Muzaffargarh, in central Pakistan on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010. Photo: AP/Khalid Tanveer

Every day, the estimates grow bleaker.

Four million homeless. Eight million in need of relief. One-fifth of the country under water.

The devastation wrought by weeks of unprecedented flooding in Pakistan has plunged a country already struggling with entrenched poverty further into desperation and despair. Even as the deluge began to subside this week, millions were left without food or shelter, their farms and villages washed away. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, called the humanitarian crisis caused by the floods “mind-blowing.”

The United States has increased its offer of aid to Pakistan to $150 million, in part to thwart Islamic extremists who may attempt to profit from the devastation. “We don’t want additional jihadists [and] extremists coming out of a crisis,” Sen. John Kerry told reporters in Pakistan this week. Where the Pakistani government’s response efforts have been inadequate or nonexistent, several militant groups and hard-line Islamic charities have already sought to fill the void, providing aid to flood victims with nowhere else to turn. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, meanwhile, has established a national coordinating council to oversee the distribution of aid.

The death toll also continues to rise. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Thursday that the floods have killed as many as 1,600 people, and swept away the livelihoods of millions of others. Cattle, often the only source of income for families in provinces such as Sindh and Punjab, have drowned. Villages have been isolated. And the region’s main transport arteries have been cut off or destroyed, making relief efforts and the distribution of aid that much more difficult.

The Flood Forecasting Division of the Pakistani government, meanwhile, has predicted that mild flooding may continue through the next several days, especially in the Sindh province, the site of some of the worst devastation. That stretch of time, the forecast predicted, would be crucial for flood victims and humanitarian efforts, as hospitals and makeshift clinics swell with victims, and the threat of an epidemic grows. International humanitarian organizations continued to ferry aid into the hardest-hit regions of the country, with a watchful eye on the rains to come. As the bulletin issued by the Pakistani government put it: The “next seven days are critical.”

 

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