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Flood-Hit Pakistan Cancels Most Independence Day Celebrations

The UN has appealed to the international community for at least $460 million, of which more than $150 million has been pledged so far, to provide emergency shelter and other aid to Pakistanis in flood-hit areas.

Pakistan has observed the 63rd anniversary of its independence with somber ceremonies as it struggled with the worst floods in decades.

The lives of 20 million people -- more than 20 percent of the population -- have been disrupted by one of the worst catastrophes in Pakistan's history. Six million of them need food, shelter, and clean water.

The government canceled all events related to Independence Day celebrations, but held a simple flag-raising ceremony in Islamabad and a wreath-laying ceremony at the mausoleum of the Quaid-i Azam, Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in Karachi.

Highlighting the scale of the disaster, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in an Independence Day speech that the country faces challenges similar to those in 1947, when tens of thousands died and millions suffered in the tumultuous events of subcontinent's partition.

"I want to assure the nation that we, your democratic government, will leave no stone unturned in the way of recovery of the people [affected by the floods] from the disaster," Gilani said.

"I have firm confidence that every individual of our nation, the affluent, the civil society, and our youth, will participate with enthusiasm in the process of helping the flood victims, and getting them back on their feet."

Relief Measures

Today Gilani also agreed to a proposal from opposition leader Nawaz Sharif that an independent body be appointed to raise relief funds.

While announcing the measure at a press conference, the two said that the body would also oversee flood-relief spending in a transparent manner to boost Pakistan's credibility in the eyes of the international community.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also visited flood victims in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southern Sindh provinces today. Zardari has tried to respond to criticism over his decision to visit Europe as the crisis was unfolding.

The floods, triggered by torrential monsoon downpours just over two weeks ago, engulfed Pakistan's Indus River basin, killing up to 1,600 people.

Overwhelmed by the disaster, Pakistan's government has been accused of being too slow in responding to the crisis, with victims relying on the military and international aid agencies for help.

Scattered thundershowers with few heavy falls are expected in the upper northwest, upper Punjab, parts of the north, and Kashmir over the next 24 hours, according to Pakistan's Meteorological Department.

A United Nations statement said relief operations still needed to reach 6 million people. Among other urgent problems, clean drinking water is desperately needed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to visit Pakistan over the weekend to visit flood-hit areas and review efforts to speed relief to millions of people who require emergency shelter or other humanitarian aid.

compiled from agency reports