Pakistan floods displace millions, aid welcome from US or from militants

The US has committed $35 million thus far to battle the worst Pakistan floods in 80 years. Meanwhile, a militant group has some 3,000 volunteers working around the country.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP
People affected by flooding receive relief supplies in Nowshera, northwest Pakistan, Friday, Aug. 6. Stormy weather grounded helicopters carrying emergency supplies to Pakistan's flood-ravaged northwest Friday as the worst monsoon rains in decades brought more destruction to a nation already reeling from Islamist violence.

As Pakistan struggles with its worst floods in 80 years, much has been made in the West of the influence of hard-line Islamist charities providing relief in a region where the US is trying to win hearts and minds. But in Pakistan, the hope appears simply to be to get as much help to the region as possible – and quickly.

On Friday, the United States announced an additional $25 million for flood relief in Pakistan, taking its total contribution to $35 million. At the same time, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group banned by the United Nations Security Council for its links with the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, believed to be behind the Mumbai (Bombay) attacks in India, has some 3,000 volunteers working around the country and is operating nine medical camps, he said.

The floods have claimed at least 1,600 lives, displaced more than 4 million people, and affected as many as 12 million, as waters spread from the country’s militancy-affected northwest through the bread-basket of Punjab. As far as Sindh, home to Karachi, the country’s financial hub, river banks are bursting.

“Our main focus is toward central Punjab and Sindh now,” says Zia-ur-Rehman, of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority. Punjab is Pakistan's agricultural hub where UN World Food Program officials estimate that 80 percent of the country’s food stock has been depleted. About 70 villages in Sukkur area of Sindh have been flooded in the past 24 hours, according to the Pakistan Navy.

Grounded Chinooks

Heavy rains are expected to continue in flood-affected areas over the next 36 hours and are likely to hamper rescue efforts.

Indeed, US military personnel waiting to fly Chinook helicopters to areas cut off by flooding in Swat were grounded because of stormy weather.

Mussarat Ahmed Zeb, a resident of Saidu Sharif in Swat, told the Monitor that little aid has reached those residents of Upper Swat cut off by road after several bridges were swept away. “They need food aid desperately, these are poor people who cannot store food and will soon be starving,” she said in a phone interview.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa deputy spokesman Yahya Mujahid told the Monitor his group welcomed US aid efforts.

“Everyone should be digging in for humanity’s sake, and we shouldn’t be politicizing the matter. We aren’t reaching out with an agenda in mind. The whole world should be putting in aid, America or whoever else, and we want everyone to contribute,” he said in a phone interview from Mianwali in Punjab.

Government response?

Scorn has been heaped upon President Asif Ali Zardari for not canceling his visit to Europe where he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and plans to launch his son’s political career at an event in Birmingham on Saturday.

But for a political career mired in controversy, Mr. Zardari’s latest faux pas isn’t likely to be his undoing, says Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s weekly Herald magazine. “It was a bad decision, but he’s been hated for 15 years, and will continue to be hated,” says Mr. Alam, adding that the Paksitani media’s fixation upon Zardari has distracted from the leadership of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who has made an effort to be visible in the flood-affected areas.

Flooding has also hit Indian-administered Kashmir in the Ladakh region, where at least 60 people have been killed. A similar number of deaths, 63, has been reported in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

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