Published On: Thu, Aug 12th, 2010

Pakistani President Zardari makes first visit to flood zone (latest photos of flood victims/damage)

President Asif Ali Zardari flew in to a flood-hit area in Sukkur on Thursday for a first look at the two-week-old crisis after criticism over trips abroad and his government’s perceived slack response.

The floods, triggered by torrential monsoon downpours, have engulfed Pakistan’s Indus river basin, killing more than 1,600 people, forcing two million from their homes and disrupting the lives of about 14 million people, or eight per cent of the population.

The deluge, which began two weeks ago, has caused extensive damage to the country’s main crops, agriculture officials said, after the United Nations appealed for $459 million in emergency aid and warned of more deaths if help didn’t arrive.

Agriculture is a mainstay of the economy. The International Monetary Fund has warned of major economic harm and the Finance Ministry said the country would miss this year’s 4.5 per cent gross domestic product growth target though it was not clear by how much.

Zardari set off on visits to meet the leaders of Britain and France as the floods were beginning.

Two days after returning home, he arrived in the city of Sukkur on the banks of the Indus river in the southern province of Sindh to inspect the destruction and aid efforts.

“He is going for a briefing on the damage and on protection measures and relief and rehabilitation measures,” said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

Officials from the government and international agencies are still assessing the extent of the flood damage, but a spokesman for UN humanitarian operations said a third of the country had been affected.

Hundreds of roads and bridges have been destroyed from northern mountains to the plains of the southern province of Sindh, where the waters have not yet crested.

Countless villages and farms have been inundated, crops destroyed and livestock lost.

In some places, families are huddled on tiny patches of water-logged land with their animals, surrounded by an inland sea.

People have been jostling for food at distribution points throughout the disaster area, with the Muslim fasting month of Ramazan, when hungry people break their fast at dusk with a special meal, adding to people’s anxiety.

“The government…should provide clean water and clean food to the people,” said Mohammad Ali, a bread maker scrambling for supplies in the northwest. “Ramazan has arrived, but we see no sign of the government giving us any of these things.”

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