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UN chief to visit flood-hit Pakistan
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 14 - 08 - 2010

Pakistani flood affected people move to safer areas in Muzaffargarh near Multan, Pakistan, Friday. Fever, stomach problems and skin diseases are spreading among Pakistani flood victims, officials said Friday, adding another dimension of danger to a crisis that could get even worse, with the UN warning that dams in the south may burst. – APISLAMABAD – UN chief Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Pakistan late Saturday to visit areas devastated by the country's worst floods in history and to hold talks on relief efforts, the foreign ministry said Friday.
“The UN secretary general will arrive in Islamabad late on Saturday,” foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said.
“He will discuss relief efforts with government leaders on Sunday and visit flood-devastated areas the same day,” the spokesman added.
Basit confirmed that Ban's one-day visit will take place two days ahead of one by US Senator John Kerry.
Pakistan says up to 20 million people face direct or indirect harm, although without providing a detailed breakdown on how. The United Nations believes 1,600 people have died, while Islamabad has confirmed 1,343 deaths.
Welcoming the visits, President Asif Ali Zardari had said the “damage to life, property, livestock and infrastructure was so huge that it could be faced only with the concerted efforts of all the people of Pakistan with the support and assistance of the international community,” his spokesman said.
Meanwhile, disease outbreaks pose new risks to victims of Pakistan's worst floods in decades, aid agencies said on Friday, potentially hindering already complicated relief efforts. The floods, triggered by torrential monsoon downpours, have engulfed Pakistan's Indus river basin, killing more than 1,600 people, forcing two million from their homes and disrupting the lives of about 14 million people, or 8 percent of the population.
Although waters have receded in some areas, fresh rains could bring new destruction, and a health crisis would tax aid agencies already facing huge logistical challenges.
The United Nations is increasingly concerned about water-borne diseases. There are 36,000 suspected cases of potentially fatal acute watery diarrhoea reported so far At least 96 health facilities have been damaged across the country.
“This is a growing concern. Therefore we are responding with all kinds of preventative as well as curative medication... for outbreaks,” said Maurizio Giuliano, the UN humanitarian operation spokesman told Reuters. The floods have roared down from the northwest to the Punjab agricultural heartland to the southern Sindh province, where new floods are possible.
The UN's World Food Progam said there have been reports of diarrhoea but the problem was not widespread, although it's still cause for concern. – Agencies
“The situation is alarming,” spokesman Amjad Jamal said. The deluge, which began two weeks ago, has caused extensive damage to the country's main crops, agriculture officials said, after the United Nations appealed for $459 million in emergency aid and warned of a wave of deaths if help didn't arrive.
Increasing desperation could lead to social unrest and pile more pressure on the government, which has already been heavily criticised for its perceived lacklustre response to the floods, unlike the powerful military which swung into action.
“There is a huge need for food. All over the country crowds are in need of food,” said Giuliano.
Entire villages have been swallowed up. Fertile lands have been destroyed, stripping farmers of their livelihood. Bridges have collapses. People desperate to keep their livestock walk-neck-deep in water, pulling the animals along.
The International Monetary Fund has warned of major economic harm and the Finance Ministry said the country would miss this year's 4.5 percent gross domestic product growth target though it was not clear by how much.
Wheat, cotton and sugar crops have all suffered damage. Agriculture is a mainstay of the economy and the United Nations has estimated rehabilitation will cost billions of dollars.
“On the downside, crops could have suffered damage and food inflation will soar. There may be severe shortages too and riots could well break out,” said independent economist Meekal Ahmed. “The power shortage which has crippled industry could get worse. Exports would be hit as well.”
US increases aid
The United States has upped its aid to flood-ravaged Pakistan and announced a visit by a political heavyweight to show its commitment to a fractious ally where anti-US feeling runs high.
US Senator John Kerry will visit Pakistan next week to raise public awareness and drum up donations, an official said as Washington increased its contribution to the relief effort by $21 million.
“This will be a critical visit to help raise the profile among publics both in the US and internationally,” said Dan Feldman, the US deputy special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan is a top US priority due to concerns over Islamic extremism in the nuclear-armed nation, and as US-led forces battle to quell the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

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