British Pakistanis scramble to aid flood survivors

LONDON Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:22am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Muhammad Maqsood Sheikh, a British Pakistani, runs a chain of grocery shops in London but he will temporarily abandon his business this month to deliver aid to the survivors of Pakistan's worst floods in decades.

Like many in Britain's Pakistani community, he is angry with what he sees as the slow response of the Pakistani government to the floods which have killed more than 1,600 people.

"Most of the people I have seen are angry, very angry with the government," Sheikh, 55, said in a windowless office in the basement of one of his shops in south London.

"We need to give maximum relief to the people," added Sheikh, who was in Pakistan this month and helped recover bodies from a swollen river near his home village in Kashmir.

Anger with President Asif Ali Zardari and concerns about a lackluster international donor response have galvanized Britain's 1.2-million-strong Pakistani diaspora, one of the world's biggest and oldest.

In London and Birmingham, home to most of the community, ordinary people like Sheikh are scrambling to collect cash and clothes though mosques and charity and fund-raising events.

Many have gone to Pakistan to look for missing relatives and deliver aid. Money transfers from Britain via MoneyGram rose 36 percent last week compared with a week earlier, the payment services firm said.

The United States, Britain and other donors have committed a total of more than $150 million but the United Nations says more is needed. It has appealed for $460 million in urgent aid.

In Britain, many in the Pakistani community are bitter, saying Zardari has failed to rally international support and provide strong leadership.

The Pakistan leader has faced sharp criticism for traveling abroad, including a visit to Britain, as the crisis unfolded.

DONOR FATIGUE

Aid agencies say response has been slow compared with other disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti in January.

"It could be because of donor fatigue in terms of what's happening around the world," Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations, told BBC radio this week.

Britain's Disasters Emergency Committee raised 9.5 million pounds in public donations but says more is needed.

Addressing hundreds of Pakistanis at a charity dinner in north-east London, Ishfaq Ahmed, a charity boss, broke into tears as he appealed for donations.

"You must feel the pain of your brothers and sisters wherever they are," Ahmed, head of the Kashmir International Relief Fund, told guests. "We must help them."

Others have accused Western leaders of portraying Pakistan in a negative light, pointing to remarks last month by British Prime Minister David Cameron who told Islamabad that it must not "promote the export of terror."

Imtiaz Qadir from London's Active Change Foundation, which is raising money for the flood victims, said: "David Cameron had a big effect that people articulate: 'Why should we donate to these people when they are actually exporting terrorism?'

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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