Pakistan officials call for flood aid
President visits inundated areas
KARACHI — President Asif Ali Zardari made his first visit to regions swamped by Pakistan’s worst ever floods yesterday as relief officials appealed for urgent deliveries of food, shelter, and medicine for 14 million displaced people.
The Pakistani president toured the Sukkur dam in southern Sindh Province, state-run Pakistan Television reported, to see the damage firsthand, after being criticized by the opposition for proceeding with a trip to Europe as the floods spread. Zardari’s hometown is in the region.
Meanwhile, a shipload of US Marines and helicopters arrived to boost relief efforts.
As the United Nations launched an appeal for $460 million in emergency aid, Pakistani officials underscored the urgency of the relief operation with fears of disease outbreaks growing.
“We need relief supplies immediately, not today, not tomorrow but right now,’’ Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority, said by phone from Islamabad, the capital.
Mosquito nets, tents, tarpaulins, kits to prevent cholera, ready-to-eat meals, and water-purifying tablets are all needed as the catastrophe that has killed at least 1,600 people enters its third week.
“Pakistan’s resources will run out in the next 25 days, or if we can stretch them, in the next 40 days,’’ Kamal said.
Flood surges triggered by unprecedented monsoon rains have swept south along the 2,000-mile-long Indus River, devastating low-lying areas of Punjab and Sindh provinces, the densely populated economic and agricultural heartland of Pakistan, damaging 722,000 homes. About 1.73 million acres of standing crops, including rice and cotton, are underwater or have been destroyed by floodwaters, the Food and Agriculture Organization has said.
Thunderstorms are expected to bring more rain to the north of Pakistan in the next 24 hours, Muhammad Riaz, the chief meteorologist said, though they are not expected to be heavy. Flood forecasts were issued for parts of Punjab along the Chenab River.
The USS Peleliu arrived off the coast near Karachi yesterday, along with helicopters and about 1,000 Marines.
An Associated Press reporter flew with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani over parts of Punjab, Sindh, and Baluchistan provinces. Seen from the air, the extent of the disaster was clear, with the aircraft often flying for many minutes over a mostly flooded landscape.
“All I say is that we need more help from our international friends,’’ Gilani said. “We need more such helicopters, because the magnitude of the destruction was far more than earlier assessments. I also urge my own countrymen and women to help their brothers and sisters.’’
The United States has pledged $55 million in emergency aid. Britain has allocated $26.2 million and earmarked up to $48.2 million for relief aid, the Department for International Development said on its website.
Water is roaring through a system of dams along the Indus at rates exceeding 1 million cubic feet per second, up to 10 times the normal levels.
“The flooding in Pakistan has the potential to be significantly more disastrous’’ than the 2005 Pakistan earthquake that killed about 86,000 people, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. The Pentagon said in a statement that Gates had authorized the deployment of 19 Navy and Marine Corps helicopters to support the flood-relief effort. The 19 choppers will relieve six Army helicopters already in Pakistan that were loaned from operations in Afghanistan.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.