Zardari warns flood recovery could take years

President Asif Ali Zardari warned his beleaguered nation could take years to recover from devastating floods as global pledges topped 700 million dollars and waters refused to relent.

The near month-long floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country’s worst ever natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever present in the camps sheltering desperate survivors.

“Your guess is as good as mine, but three years is a minimum,” Zardari told reporters on Monday when asked how long it would take Pakistan to go through relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation after the floods.

“I don’t think Pakistan will ever fully recover but we will move on,” the president said, adding the government — under fire for its slow relief response — was working to protect people from similar disasters in future.

Senior US official Dan Feldman, the deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters in Washington that a UN General Assembly meeting last week was “a real galvanising moment” in the aid effort.

“By our count, we’ve seen over 700 million dollars pledged, including our own 150 million dollar commitment, from over 30 countries,” Feldman said, without giving a country-by-country breakdown.

He said there are an “additional 300 million dollars in as yet undefined commitments” from a variety of countries.

“There will always be a ‘could have been better, would have been better, should have been better’… (but) you have to understand how enormous the issue (the scale of the disaster) is,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas in the south since Saturday, including most of the 100,000 residents in the city of Shahdadkot, which authorities were battling to protect.

Dozens of villages around Shahdadkot were inundated, district administration official Yasin Shar told AFP Monday, as floodwaters threatened the city.

Nearly 90 percent of people living in the area had left and the remaining were being rushed out, he said.

Similar efforts were being made to save Hyderabad, a city of 2.5 million people on the lower reaches of the Indus river, where at least 36 surrounding villages have been swept away.