Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari yesterday made his first visit to areas hit by devastating floods. He toured the Sukkur dam in southern Sindh Province, Pakistan Television reported, to see the damage firsthand, after being criticized by the opposition for proceeding with a trip to Europe as the floods spread, president’s hometown is in the region.
President Zardari has visited a relief camp for flood victims, in his first visit to areas hit by the deluge.
“The president visited a relief camp set up for flood-affected people at a college in Sukkur city,” his spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told the BBC.
A spokesman said the president handed out aid in Sindh province, and promised homes would be rebuilt
“He heard people’s grievances and told them that the government was determined to improve their situation as quickly as possible.”
The president had told the displaced that the government would “see to it that your houses are rebuilt as early as possible”, according to Mr Babar.
“He distributed relief goods among the families housed at the camp,” the spokesman added.
The president – also attacked for what some say has been the government’s slow response to the disaster – looked at aid efforts in the region as well. ‘President Zardari is visiting the mile-long Sukkur barrage. From here he will visit a flood victims’ camp,’ said Mr Babar.
Mr Zardari also inspected the Sukkur Barrage, a key flood barrier in Sindh, which has been under pressure from the massive volume of floodwaters flowing down the Indus river.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has defended his decision to travel abroad while the country battled the worst floods in decades, saying he had helped focus international attention on the plight of the victims.In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, President Zardari said he had used his trip to France and Britain to mobilize foreign assistance, money and food for the flood victims.“Some have criticized my decision, saying it represented aloofness, but I felt that I had to choose substance over symbolism,” he said.
The British government had pledged $24 million in aid, following his meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, the Pakistani leader said. He had also been in touch with the U.S. government, which had promised $35 million in relief funds.
The floods triggered by heavy monsoon rain over the upper reaches of the Indus river
“As I return to Pakistan, I bring back tangible results that will help the flood victims in the short run and lay the foundations for national recovery in the long run,”
President Zardari said. “I might have benefited personally from the political symbolism of being in the country at the time of natural disaster. But hungry people can’t eat symbols. The situation demanded action, and I acted to mobilize the world.”
The floods have affected 14 million people and left at least 1,600 dead. The
President visits flood relief camp
deluge has caused extensive damage to key crops – such as wheat, cotton and sugar cane – in a country where agriculture is an economic lynch-pin.
Food and Agriculture Minister Nazar Muhammad Gondal told the BBC the disaster had caused “huge losses” to its crops.
From Pakistan’s northern mountains to its southern plains, the floods have washed away roads, bridges and railway, while entire villages have been rubbed out and countless livestock drowned.
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer told the BBC’s Lyse Doucet that a total of $2-3bn worth of crops had been destroyed in the province including 650,000 acres of cotton and rice, maize and other cash crops. He said that the floods had hit the poorest part of Punjab, which were “a breeding ground for potential recruitment” by militants.
“It is very important that the international community comes to their aid,” he said, “because this is the kind of nest which can grow the vipers.”
The UN has launched an appeal for more than $450m (£290m) to help those affected. The EU says it is also stepping up aid for Pakistan’s flood victims. An extra 10m euros (£8.3m) of aid was announced on Wednesday, in addition to 30m euros that was announced earlier.As the United Nations launched an appeal for $460 million in emergency aid, Pakistani officials underscored the urgency of the relief operation with fears of disease outbreaks growing.
President visit yesterday came as a warning was made that water levels in the flooded areas could rise dangerously today and early next week.
‘There can be further devastation,’ said Ahmed Kamal, of the National Disaster Management Authority’s office in Pakistan.
The warning was made 24 hours after the United Nations launched a £300million global appeal for the flood-ravaged country.
It estimates that a third of the nation has been affected by the flooding, which has claimed 1,600 lives.