Pakistan troops evacuated thousands overnight as fresh rains added Sunday to the worst floods the country has seen in 80 years. The Pakistan floods have already killed more than 1,600.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the damage is worse than the devastating 2005 earthquake and appealed for more international aid.
“The government has done everything possible but it is beyond our capacity, we are facing an extremely difficult situation,” he told reporters in flooded Sindh province, according to Reuters.
Mr. Gilani said the disaster has already caused billions of rupees worth of damage, according to the Pakistani daily, Dawn.
Britain, France, China, the US, and Australia have already promised tens of millions of dollars in response to the disaster, already so devastating with monsoon season only halfway over and in a country strapped by battling an entrenched Taliban insurgency and frequent attacks on civilians.
As many as 12 million people have been affected by this flooding, according to Pakistani officials, and 650,000 houses destroyed or damaged, while the 2005 earthquake affected 3.2 million and damaged 611,000 homes, according to CNN. (For a map of the flood-affected areas in Pakistan, see here.)
But it’s not just Pakistan that’s suffering; floods have killed more than 130 and left 400 missing in Indian-controlled Kashmir, reaching even to the Himalayan region of Ladakh, according to the Associated Press.
At least a dozen have been killed in southern Afghanistan as well, Reuters notes.
The floods have added stress to Pakistan’s ongoing internal security and political woes, as President Asif Ali Zardari came under fire for pushing forward with a scheduled visit to Europe this week and hard-line Islamist groups have stepped in to offer aid and volunteers.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is banned by the United Nations for its links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba – believed to be behind the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) that killed more than 160 – has thousands of volunteers and is operating nine medical camps for the disaster.
“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,” Jamaat-ud-Dawa deputy spokesman Yahya Mujahid told the Christian Science Monitor, saying his group welcomed US aid efforts.
The floods also open an opportunity for the US to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, an ally critical to the Afghan war but where anti-American sentiment runs deep, especially for its covert drone program on its soil. As the Christian Science Monitor reported, the 2005 earthquake similarly opened an opportunity to boost the US image.
“Given the important benefits this would have for the Pakistani people, as well as for the US-Pakistani relationship, stepping forward with critical aid right now would be a win-win for both,” says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs.
Ambassador Inderfurth recalls how US aid to Pakistan after an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 changed perceptions of the US military, which delivered provisions on Chinook helicopters.
“The Chinooks became known then as ‘angels of mercy,’ ” says Inderfurth, now director of the graduate international affairs program at George Washington University in Washington.