UN to meet on Pakistan aid as fears mount for survivors

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis remain without food and shelter as the UN prepared to meet on Thursday to drum up aid for the flood-stricken nation.

Foreign aid has begun reaching some of the 20 million flood victims, but thousands are still exposed to the elements and desperately short of food and medicine, with concerns growing over the health of displaced survivors.

The UN General Assembly meeting will seek to hasten the delivery of aid after the world body said on Wednesday it had received just over half of the 460 million dollars it had appealed for.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is reportedly ready to offer a two-billion-dollar emergency loan to repair the nation’s damaged infrastructure, after the World Bank said it would lend 900 million dollars.

Weather forecasters signalled that the monsoon systems may ease off after three weeks of torrential rains triggered the devastating floods that have left nearly 1,500 people dead in Pakistan’s worst natural disaster.

The floods wiped out villages, farmland and infrastructure, and the UN aid coordination body OCHA said that more than 650,000 homeless families were still without basic shelter.

At a camp for 3,000 displaced people in the south of Punjab province, most sat in crippling heat, batting away mosquitoes. Concerns were growing about cholera and typhoid, while many were suffering from stomach problems.

Half were children, an army official told AFP, with a few crammed into tents furnished with straw cots, while others were held back by soldiers as they attempted to reach medical and food supplies arriving by helicopter.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to announce extra US aid — currently 90 million dollars — at the UN meeting.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who visited the blighted region at the weekend and described the situation as “heart-wrenching”, is to outline the humanitarian needs of the flood victims.

“There has been an increase in the pace of pledges, but we still need more funds, tents, food, water and medical supplies,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Wednesday.

A resolution urging the international community to help Pakistan recover in the medium and long-term will also be on the table, amid signs foreign donors are rallying in support of the embattled Muslim nation.

The Philippine-based ADB is to set up a trust fund where donors can send

contributions, the Financial Times reported, citing the bank’s director-general for central and west Asia, Juan Miranda.

“We will make available a minimum of two billion dollars towards the reconstruction effort,” the FT quoted Miranda as saying.

The US government said it could divert part of its five-year 7.5 billion dollar non-military aid programme for Pakistan into short-term relief. The European Union has also doubled its commitment to 70 million euros (90 million dollars).

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has handed 100,000 dollars to help refugees, according to UN sources, while former Pakistani cricket hero and politician Imran Khan has launched a fund-raising campaign.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the country had received more immediate relief aid through the UN and direct bilateral aid totalling about 301 million dollars.

Islamabad has confirmed 1,475 deaths, but WHO representative Guido Sabatinelli told AFP he suspected the toll was much higher.

“We’re talking about 20 million people affected today and there is no infrastructure and no health centres that can register the deaths,” he said.

About six million people are deemed to be at risk of deadly water-borne diseases, with typhoid, hepatitis and cholera major concerns.

“Two million dollars are needed every day to provide water, this is not sustainable. We don’t have two million dollars a day,” said Daniel Toole, the regional director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

With Pakistan on the brink of economic catastrophe, Akram said reconstruction in northern areas alone could cost 2.5 billion dollars with the floods ravaging an area the size of England.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the government was worried about some half million expectant mothers among the flood victims, and was making plans for those who would give birth soon.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has warned that the disaster could play into the hands of insurgents.