August 15, 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
is responding to the devastation of the flood disaster in Pakistan, calling it the worst disaster he's ever seen, and urging foreign donors to speed up assistance to the 20 million people affected.the New York Times
reports, "I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today," Mr. Ban said after flying over hard-hit areas with President Asif Ali Zardari
. "I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this."
The secretary general visited Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis struck there in May 2008, killing an estimated 138,000 people. Two months earlier, he flew to Sichuan Province in China, just days after an earthquake killed nearly 90,000 people. Mr. Bans comments reflect widespread concern about the disaster. The floods began more than two weeks ago and have hit about one-quarter of the country, especially its agricultural heartland. While the death toll of about 1,500 is relatively small, the scale of the flooding and the number whose lives have been disrupted are staggering. On Saturday, the prime minister said 20 million people had been made homeless.
The United Nations has appealed for an initial $460 million to provide relief, but only 20 percent has been given. Once the floods recede, billions more will be needed to rebuild and to get people back to work in the already poor nation of 170 million people. Mr. Zardari said it would take up to two years for the country to recover.
Because monsoon rains are expected to fall for several more weeks, the worst may not be over. While local charities and international agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people with food, water, shelter and medical treatment, the scale of the disaster has meant that many millions have received little or no aid.
The United Nations has voiced fears that diseases like cholera may yet cause more deaths in overcrowded and unsanitary relief camps. Earlier Sunday, survivors fought over food being handed out from a relief vehicle close to the town of Sukkur in hard-hit Sindh Province, ripping at one anothers clothes and causing such chaos that the distribution had to be abandoned.
"We are here like beggars," said Mukhtar Ali, 45, an accountant living on the side of a highway along with thousands of others. "The last food we received was a small packet of rice yesterday, and 15 of us shared that."