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UN To Launch Pakistan Fund Drive To Help Flood Victims


A soldier in an army helicopter hands out emergency food packages to stranded families in Punjab Province.
The United Nations has launched an appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars in international relief for flood-hit Pakistan.

Around 1,600 people have died and the UN estimates that 14 million people -- 6 million of them children -- have been affected by the worst floods in Pakistan's history.

Initially, the UN says, aid will be directed toward the 6 million people who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

According to UN estimates, 290,000 homes have been destroyed by floods, leaving around 2 million people homeless.

The UN secretary-general's special envoy for assistance to Pakistan, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said that as relief and rebuilding efforts continued, more aid would be needed.

"We know that the area affected and the scale of the disaster are such that hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to address the urgent humanitarian needs and billions of dollars will be required for rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure and livelihoods," Ripert said.

Getting Help To The Victims

This is shaping up to be one of the largest UN relief efforts ever. According to Pakistani statistics, the number of people affected is more than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Pakistan's 2005 earthquake, and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti combined -- though the death toll of each of those disasters was higher.

On August 10, the United States announced that it would donate an additional $20 million to relief efforts -- bringing the total to $55 million.

Mark Ward, acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) office of foreign disaster assistance, said that it was working with local organizations.

"What we're going to be doing with this additional money is, just as the flood is moving south, we are going to move south," Ward said.

"We are going to expand those activities with new organizations and existing organizations that we've been supporting so that they can move their activities as the flood moves south, so they will be following it."

Flooding began in the northwest provinces several weeks ago, after which flood waters surged south through the central Punjab Province and into the southern Sindh Province.

Though many countries have pledged aid, funds have been slow to come. Additionally, due to continuing rain and heavy winds, helicopters have had a difficult time air lifting supplies to affected areas.

The Taliban Steps In

With Islamabad acknowledging that it is unable to cope with the disaster alone, some fear that Islamic charities connected to the Taliban or other militant groups will step in.

On August 10, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman urged the government not to accept Western aid, adding that the Taliban could fund relief efforts itself.

The spokesman told news agencies the money would be stolen by corrupt local officials, and would only lead to "subjugation."

The Pakistani Taliban is known to be strong in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Swat Valley, and has attacked international aid groups in the past.

On August 10, Dan Feldman, the deputy to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said Washington was being very careful about who it gives money to and what local organizations it partners with.

"We have only seen kind of episodic reports of the Islamic, more extremist charities [at work in response to the flood crisis]," Feldman said, "and so it's something that that post [U.S. Embassy in Pakistan] has not been as concerned about, and we will continue doing everything we can to channel funding through these [other] credible organizations."

Pakistanis have voiced their anger at what they say is the authorities' slow response to the disaster.

President Asif Ali Zardari has been criticized for his decision to continue his scheduled visit to Europe during the first weeks of flooding. He returned to the country on August 10 and officials were unsure as to whether he would visit the areas hardest hit by the floods.

Many Pakistanis have praised the military, which has led much of the relief effort so far. The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its of its 63-year existence, but analysts say that it has pledged to stay out of politics.

compiled from agency reports