Not one bridge left standing in flood-hit Swat valley: Qureshi

New York: The catastrophic floods in Pakistan, which displaced 20 million people, have destroyed all bridges in the picturesque Swat valley, once a hotbed of Taliban militants.

"Much of our crops have been destroyed. The infrastructure has been ravaged in all of our provinces. In the scenic Swat valley, there is not one bridge left standing," Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think-tank, yesterday.

Swat, known as the 'Switzerland of Pakistan', is a valley and administrative district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. In December 2008, most of the area was captured by the Taliban and was considered dangerous for tourism.

Pakistan, under the US pressure, in late May 2009 began a military offensive to regain control of the region. Swat is now reportedly cleared of Taliban.

Qureshi said the scale of the flood tragedy was immense. He noted that the UN Secretary General has described the destruction as greater than Tsunami, the 2005 earthquake and the recent earthquake in Haiti put together.

"Through the length and breadth of Pakistan, across the course of the Indus River, the deluge has uprooted 20 million people," he said, adding that the floods have washed away livestock, crops and livelihoods, inundated town after town, acre upon acre of fertile farmland.

During his address, Qureshi also acknowledged that Pakistan is conscious of the need to ensure complete transparency and accountability in aid disbursal.

"We are working through the UN System; and in close collaboration with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to prepare a credible Damage Needs Assessment," he said, addressing concerns in the West that aid given to combat floods in Pakistan could be misused.

The reluctance of the global community to respond to the UN's initial appeal of USD 459 million has been attributed to concerns that the foreign governments have about corruption that may lead to misuse of the aid in Pakistan.

Qureshi said that Pakistan government has put in place an Oversight Mechanism that will address donor requirements and ensure transparent and effective utilisation of international assistance.