SUKKUR, Pakistan (AFP) – The UN has appealed for 460 million dollars in urgent aid to cope with Pakistan's devastating floods as a US carrier joins the relief operation and medics warn of a wave of disease.
UN humanitarian chief John Holmes on Wednesday said the funds would be used for food, clean water, shelter and medical supplies for the millions affected by the natural disaster in a nation already beset by extremist violence.
|Pakistani flood survivors evacuate a flooded area near Muzaffargarh. AFP|
"We have a huge task in front of us to deliver all that is required as soon as possible," he told donors in New York.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced the deployment of an amphibious assault ship, taking the number of US helicopters available for the relief effort to 19.
"The flooding in Pakistan has the potential to be significantly more disastrous for the country than the earthquake several years ago," he said, referring to a 2005 quake in Kashmir that killed more than 73,000 people.
US President Barack Obama "wants to lean forward in offering help to the Pakistanis", Gates said, as Islamic charities step up a highly visible aid effort with the Islamabad government admitting to being overwhelmed.
The biggest challenge for doctors is injuries from collapsing buildings or other trauma, said one medic from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
"The second is skin infections. We receive a lot of patients with scabies, fungal infections, mostly because of overcrowding (in relief camps)," said the doctor, who gave his name as Waheed.
And the bigger challenge now building is water-borne disease and nutritional problems, he said.
"There's a need of proper water supply and proper food supply because they have a water supply over here but it's not up to the international standards."
Pakistan's government says 14 million people face direct or indirect harm from the floods, while the United Nations has warned that children are among the most vulnerable.
The UN believes 1,600 people have died in the floods, while Pakistan has confirmed 1,243 deaths.
Millions of displaced and hungry Pakistanis who watched flood waters swallow up their homes and crops face further challenges when the dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan starts Thursday.
Authorities promise to provide cooked meals to flood victims during Ramadan and compensate families of those killed, but few on the ground expect much assistance.
Officials in Punjab province said more than 90 percent of the town of Kot Addu had emptied and that thousands of factories had shut because of electricity and gas cuts.
The chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, said that up to 3.5 million people could be affected in the southern province.
"Up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) of Indus Highway is inundated and has been closed. The initial rough estimates show that losses of 35 billion rupees (411 million dollars), excluding crops, have been suffered by Sindh," he said.
"What we need is substantial foreign aid and not peanuts. The aid being pledged so far is peanuts and not enough to meet the enormous challenge ahead."
The World Food Programme said it was trying to get help to up to six million survivors at a cost of 150 million dollars.
Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the enormous scale of the suffering in Pakistan was difficult to comprehend.
"Although the deaths are far less than they were in the (2004 Indian Ocean) tsunami, and in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and in Haiti, the overall number of people affected is much larger than all of those combined," he said.
"The international recognition of this disaster has not yet been sufficient to its dimensions," he told the Council on Foreign Relations, warning that Pakistan faced "rolling crises" for a long time to come.