Pakistan gets respite from rains but aid flow is slow

Pakistan`s worst floods in recorded history began more than two weeks ago.

Islamabad: Pakistan authorities forecast on Monday a brief respite in rains that sparked the country`s worst floods in decades, but aid agencies warned help was too slow to arrive for millions without clean water, food and homes.

Water levels in the Indus River feeding Pakistan`s plains have fallen in Punjab, the country`s most populous and worst hit province, although flooding would stay high where embankments were breached. In Sindh province, flooding could get worse.

Much damage has already been done and on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged foreign donors to speed up aid and warned of more destruction after floods that have already disrupted lives of a tenth of its 170 million people.

"In Punjab, the water level in the river is falling and in the next 4-5 days ... there will be scattered rains, but they are not flood-producing," Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, director general, Meteorological department, said.

"Where there has been breaches, the water will continue to flow into the plain areas."

Hundreds of villages across Pakistan in an area roughly the size of Italy have been marooned, highways have been cut in half and thousands of homeless people have been forced to set up tarapaulin tents along the side of roads

Up to 1,600 people have been killed, two million made homeless and public anger has grown, adding to risks of political instability and economic downturn for an unpopular government that is already reeling from a militant insurgency

"The speed with which the situation is deteriorating is frightening," said Neva Khan, Oxfam`s country director in Pakistan.

"Communities desperately need clean water, latrines and hygiene supplies, but the resources currently available cover only a fraction of what is required."

Only a quarter of the USD 459 million aid needed for initial relief has arrived, according to the United Nations. That contrasts with the United States giving at least USD 1 billion in military aid last year to its regional ally to battle militants.

The UN has reported the first case of cholera amid fears that disease outbreaks.

"As humanitarians we certainly are on high alert because we have to be able to be prepared for any kind of development," said UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano. "We don`t know which way it`s going to go. More flooding is certainly possible."

Pakistan`s government has been accused of being too slow to respond to the crisis with victims relying mostly on the military -- the most powerful institution in Pakistan -- and foreign aid agencies for help.

Analysts said a perception that Pakistan was corrupt coupled with President Asif Ali Zardari`s visit to Europe at the time of the crisis had also done little to encourage foreign donors.

Despite the government`s perceived failure to tackle the crisis, a military coup is unlikely. The Army`s priority is fighting Taliban insurgents, and seizing power during a disaster would make no sense, analysts say.

Bureau Report