Nato in talks on ‘air bridge’ with Pakistan: Qureshi

Nato officials are in talks with Islamabad on setting up an ‘air bridge’ to fly in relief for millions of Pakistanis affected by devastating floods, Pakistan said Monday.

Many areas are inaccessible by road and the only way to provide relief to them was through helicopters, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a press conference in Islamabad.

“A six-member Nato team is in Islamabad to discuss modalities for the air bridge and to assess Pakistan’s needs,” he said.

It is the second time Nato has engaged in relief efforts in Pakistan, following the 2005 earthquake, which killed more than 73,000 people and left around 3.5 million homeless.

“The Nato team held talks with officials in the foreign office today to assess Pakistan’s needs and to discuss the establishment of an air bridge for relief goods,” Qureshi said.

He said Japan had also sent a team to Islamabad to assess “our needs and to provide helicopters in the ongoing relief and rescue operations.”

Qureshi is scheduled to attend a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York on the Pakistan floods on Thursday, which he said UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would address.

While he thanked the international community for its quick response, he said Pakistan had to “sensitise them about the scale and magnitude of the disaster”.

“This is an unprecedented flood and international effort should also be unprecedented,” he said.

Described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, the three-week disaster has affected 20 million people, and has destroyed crops, infrastructure, towns and villages, according to the Pakistani government.

The United Nations has launched an aid appeal for 460 million dollars, but charities say the response has been sluggish and flood survivors on the ground have lashed out against the weak civilian government for failing to help.