Islamabad (AsiaNews / Agencies) – TheAid for 20 million victims has begun to arrive in Pakistan, but the international community seems slower in raising funds. Moreover aid distribution has failed to reach entire areas.
The weather over the past few days has given some respite to Punjab (centre-east), after three weeks of heavy monsoon rains that have turned into a fifth of the country swamp and killed at least 1400 people. But the situation is severe in Sindh, south of the river Indus, where the waters swell and there is growing fear of flooding.
The crisis remains high even Punjiab, where about 900 000 homes were destroyed and water has flooded entire regions carrying off reserves, seeds, crops and leaving people without food or water to drink.
The UN is concerned that after deaths from drowning, there will now follow "a second wave of deaths". At least eight million people (half of them children) are likely to die of diseases related to stagnant undrinkable water, including typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, malaria, in addition to the hunger that is gripping many people who lost their homes and have no shelter or tents. Only one million flood victims have so far received some help.
Aid too slow
Last week the United Nations has appealed for 460 million dollars to ensure emergency relief within the first 90 days. So far it has achieved only 54.4% of the total and some of which are mere pledges. An emergency meeting has been called for later today at UN Headquarters in New York, to push the world to pay more and generosity.
The World Bank has provided a 900 million dollar loan, the EU has increased to 70 million donations, the Asia Development Bank today offered a 2 billion dollar loan, the Islamic Development Bank 11. 2 million in donations.
Then there are the donations of individual countries: U.S. 90 million dollars, Britain 48.5 million, 21.6 million Australia, Saudi Arabia 20 million, Japan 10 million, Turkey 10 million, France 1 million, equal to that of Afghanistan. Italy has allocated one million Euros to tackle the emergency and humanitarian flight.
With some exceptions, in the case of Pakistan, the international community seems slower and less generous than in other emergencies, like the earthquake in Haiti. Yet the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, visiting flooded areas of Pakistan a few days ago, described the situation as “heart-wrenching”: "in the past I have visited many other scenes of natural disasters in the world, but none like this”. Benedict XVI yesterday launched an appeal calling on the international community to offer "solidarity" and "practical support" to the "dear people of Pakistan”.
According to Eric Schwartz, deputy U.S. secretary of state for refugees, the slowness in collecting aid is mainly due to the economic crisis that prevents governments from being generous. There is also another reason: Pakistan does not have "good image" in the media, often being linked to the problems of terrorism and Islamist violence. In addition, the Pakistani political class is known for its pervasive corruption, as well as military bodies, at the forefront of aid delivery.
Agriculture and economy in ruins
But perhaps the most important cause of the slowness lies in a failure to understand the magnitude of the disaster. It has affected not only the population but also the infrastructure: power, roads, houses, crops and livestock. Zamir Akram, Pakistani Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, argues that reconstruction in just north of the country could cost 2.5 billion dollars.
Agriculture - 20% of GDP in Pakistan - has been wiped out: the crops of cotton, sugar cane, corn, vegetables are lost and the fields have been washed away. According to President Ali Zardari criticized for his absence in this dramatic juncture, it will take at least two years to provide farmers with seed, fertilizers, food and new crops. According to experts it will require at least five to 15 billion dollars.
Meanwhile, food prices are rising and there is lack of fuel, bringing discontent and unrest among those affected. Hundreds of displaced, homeless, have blocked the road from Islamabad to Peshawar, demanding aid. Two British ministers visiting the disaster areas, were evacuated by helicopter, having been blocked by protesters.
In this increasingly tense situation, opponents of the government and Islamic parties are showing their effectiveness, criticizing the authorities. The Al-Khidmat Foundation, an organization linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest religious extremist party, mobilized 16,500 volunteers to distribute food and medicine to thousands of survivors of the flood.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, foreign minister, warned that the disaster could facilitate the spread of Islamic extremism and al-Qaeda. Pakistan has long been at the forefront in the fight against al Qaeda in north-west Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.