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Central & South Asia
Pakistan president tours flood zone
Zardari meets flood victims after heavy criticism of decision to continue European tour.
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2010 18:23 GMT
President Asif Ali Zardari has visited flood victims in affected areas, but some say he is too late [AFP]

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, has made his first visit to an area of the country hit by the worst floods in 80 years.

Zardari's spokesman said he was briefed on the damage and the relief effort after arriving at the Sukkur barrage in Sindh province on Thursday, 15 days into the disaster, which has killed at least 1,600 people and affected 14 million.

Zardari travelled along the 2km-long Sukkur barrage and peered into the roiling Indus waters below. He also met victims at a camp for those displaced by the disaster.

As the floods were beginning Zardari embarked on trips to meet the leaders of the UK and France, returning via Syria, to much criticism at home and abroad.

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from the capital, Islamabad, said: "People are very angry. 

"I spent some time in Sindh province, Zardari's home province, and the anger was clear on the street with people saying 'why is he gallivanting around Europe and when he was there why wasn't he getting money from other countries for the crisis?'"

'Bad decisions'

Security was tight with only state media allowed access for Zardari's visit to the affected region.

Television showed him comforting a sobbing elderly woman with an embrace as children sat on the floor nearby. Villagers told him of their suffering and gestured as they beseeched him for help.

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A local official told the AFP news agency that Zardari had distributed relief goods among flood victims at the camp in a college and had assured survivors the government was doing all it could to assist them.

But Imtiaz Gul, the head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera that the government was unable to cope with the situation and bad decisions had been made.

"President Zardari's visit to Europe and Syria symbolises the political leadership’s indifference and the lack of commitment to the plight of people of Pakistan," he said.

There has been extensive damage to infrastructure, crops and other agricultural resources due to the flooding in the country's northwest, Punjab and Sindh regions.

The government is still assessing the extent of the damage but a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency said one-third of the country had been affected.

The UN on Wednesday called for $459m to be raised to aid the estimated 14 million people affected by the flooding.

The money was said to represent the minimum needed for emergency assistance over the next three months and did not include anything for rebuilding infrastructure.

The UN also said that the cost of agricultural losses might reach billions of dollars. At least four million people are expected to need food assistance across Pakistan for the next three months at a cost of nearly $100m.

'Further devastation'

Some of those people are Afghan refugees, Mengesha Kebede, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan told Al Jazeera.

"We have a situation where there are 1 million internally displaced, together with 1 million Afghan refugees," he said. "We are trying to provide assistance in a coordinated manner. We will be responding to the most vulnerable, which definitely should not exclude affected Afghans."

Ahmed Kamal, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority, said the situation could worsen as water levels may rise dangerously on Friday and again early next week along stretches of the Indus in the central province of Punjab and in Sindh.

"There can be further devastation," he told reporters.

The meteorological office forecast scattered rain with a chance of thunderstorms across much of the country.

The UN has appealed for $459 million 
in urgent foreign aid [AFP]

The US has said that the 19 helicopters and 1,000 marines it has pledged to assist relief efforts are close to the southern border of the country and would begin aid missions soon.

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Thursday in Pakistan, millions of flood-affected people also started daily fasting.

Many residents of the affected northwest said that they would not neglect fasting.

"I cannot disobey God, so I am fasting as it is part of my faith no matter what the conditions are," Fazal Rabi, 47, who was staying in a tent village in Akbarpura, said.

Mufti Muneebur Rehman, one of the country's senior religious scholars, said victims living in difficult conditions dependent on charity could skip the fast and perform it later in the year.

"I am sad to miss the first day of fasting," Ghullam Fareed of Gormani village in eastern Punjab province said. "Later, when we reach home, we will compensate for this."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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