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International pledges double what was asked, UN says
By Hasan Khan
ISLAMABAD – Millions of flood victims - from the mountainous north of Pakistan to the plains in the south - are braving disease and starvation in a long wait for assistance.
“It is not an absence of relief goods but a lack of (proper) strategy that is shutting people out,” Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (Sherpao), told Central Asia Online.
The international community initially responded slowly to appeals made by Pakistani officials, though Pakistan lacks the capacity to meet the challenge.
The aid flow picked up after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waded through flooded areas, observing the devastation and human misery, and appealed for broader help.
“The appeal by Ban Ki-moon played a good role in sensitising the international community,” said Sen. Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party.
Still, President Asif Ali Zardari learned August 24 that more than 1m victims are waiting for food, water and shelter on highways and railway lines in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Afghanistan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United States, UAE, Brazil, Turkey, Australia, Great Britain, China, Iran and other countries are contributing aid. Planes loaded with relief goods arrive daily in Pakistan now.
Reports of more floods in the south are emerging, though.
The international aid tally rose to more than US $800m last week and more pledges were expected, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in New York after attending a UN special session for Pakistan.
That is nearly double the amount the UN sought (US $460m), he said.
Though many have yet to receive aid, “If there were no (foreign) helicopters and rescue teams, there would have been more human casualties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” a senior government official in Nowshera said. He requested anonymity because he lacks authorisation to talk to media.
Indeed, the estimate of lives saved by the helicopters and rescuers runs into the hundreds, said relief activist Tofail Jan.
Although the aid numbers sound big, Sherpao said the international response is not as encouraging as it seems.
PPP parliamentarian Noor Alam Khan agreed, saying the level of assistance was not commensurate to the level of devastation.
“Except for the US, the response from the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim countries, was very slow,” said Noor Alam, whose constituency in Peshawar was hit hard by the floods.
“Presently there are promises and tall claims and nothing on the ground.” Among the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia ($75m) is the largest donor.
Iran ($750,000), Turkey ($11.8m), UAE ($1.5m) and Afghanistan ($1m) are also contributing.
The international community should provide hard cash instead of donating through NGOs, Zahid stressed. “The government has the proper institutions and expertise to do the job,” Zahid said.
The perception of a slow international response is unfounded, said Engineer Asif Ali Khan.
Asif Khan — a founding member of and spokesman for Pakhtunkhwa Jamhuri Tarun, a conglomerate of social and political groups based in Peshawar, said he was impressed by timely assistance from the United States, Afghanistan, China and the United Kingdom.
“We are thankful to President Hamid Karzai and the people of Afghanistan for providing helicopters, sending doctors and medicines and donating millions of dollars,” Asif Khan said.
The lack of a strategy for using donated funds discourages international aid, Asif Khan said.
“The corruption-tainted image of our current rulers is scaring away individual donors from giving cash,” Asif Khan said.
Slow delivery of relief is making survivors angry and impatient, said Zahid Ali, a Charsadda journalist, who added that the population suspects that officials and NGO representatives are stealing donations before they reach victims. Neighbours sometimes step up to the challenge more quickly than foreigners.
“It is the local population from nearby towns who are providing shelter and food to the affected people,” Zahid said.
Central Asia Online staff contributed this report