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US senator warns of instability in Pakistan

Islamabad, August 30, 2010

Flood-striken Pakistan urgently needs more international aid to combat potential instability and extremism, a US official said, as hunger and disease threaten millions of victims.   

In a commentary published in Monday's International Herald Tribune, US Senator John Kerry wrote that the international community is not meeting its responsibilities towards the south Asian nation, where floods have killed more than 1,600 people and left at least six million homeless.

"The danger of the floods extends beyond a very real humanitarian crisis," Kerry wrote.

"A stable and secure Pakistan, based on democracy and the rule of law, is in all of our interests. Pakistan has made enormous strides in combating extremism and terrorism - at great sacrifice. But its ability to keep up the fight requires an effective response to this crisis."    

Pakistan has struggled with its response to the massive flooding, which has left one-fifth of the country underwater, an area the size of Italy. Pakistanis have grown increasingly angry with the sluggish government response, and are turning to Islamist charities sometimes tied to militant groups.

Pakistan is battling Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the speed and efficiency with which Islamist charities have helped flood victims worries government officials and the United States, which wants a stable Pakistan because of its role as a frontline state in the war on militancy.

"We don't want politicians. We want the Islamic groups in power. The government just steals," said Haidar Ali, a college student in the devastated Swat Valley whose life has been reduced to laying bricks all day in stifling heat.

Kerry is a co-sponsor of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package, which would funnel $7.5 billion over five years in civilian development money to Pakistan. Last week, the head of the United States Agency for International Development said $50 million from the package would be diverted to immediate flood relief.

The United States is the single largest donor to the flood relief, contributing more than $200 million or over 20 percent of the total aid pledged so far.

The floods began in late July after torrential monsoon downpours over the upper Indus basin in the northwest. Officials said water levels were receding on most rivers now and they expected no rain in the coming few days.

"We believe that it will take another 10 to 12 days for rivers in Sindh to come to normal flow. Therefore, we still need to be watchful," said senior weather official Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry. The southern province has been especially hard hit.   

The death toll was expected to rise significantly as the bodies of the many missing people are found. There is no official estimate of the number of missing because mass displacements have made accounting for them almost impossible.   

The United Nations said aid workers were increasingly worried about disease and hunger, especially among children, in areas where even before the disaster acute malnutrition was high.   

The receding floods have left behind huge pools of stagnant water, which in turn are breeding disease. UN officials say an estimated 72,000 children, affected by severe malnutrition, were at high risk of dying.   

Even before the floods, Pakistan's economy was fragile. Growth, forecast at 4.5 percent this fiscal year, is now predicted at anything between zero and 3 percent.   

The floods have damaged about 14 percent of Pakistan's cultivated land, according to the United Nation food agency, and the cost in crop damages is believed to be almost $3 billion. - Reuters




Tags: Pakistan | Flood | international aid | Kerry |

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