ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged foreign donors on Sunday to speed up aid to Pakistan and warned of more destruction after floods that have already disrupted lives of a tenth of its 170 million people.
Swollen by torrential monsoon rains, major rivers have flooded Pakistan’s mountain valleys and fertile plains, killing up to 1,600 people and leaving two million homeless.
Six million people still need food, shelter and water and medicine, the United Nations says. Pakistan’s government, already facing a Taliban insurgency, now faces the risk of social upheaval and long-term economic pain.
With an area roughly the size of Italy affected by floods, government and foreign aid has been slow in coming and the United Nations has warned of a second wave of deaths among the sick and hungry if help does not arrive.
Only a quarter of the $459 million aid needed for initial relief has arrived, according to the United Nations. That contrasts with the United States giving at least $1 billion in military aid last year to its regional ally to battle militants.
The U.N. has reported the first case of cholera amid fears that disease outbreaks could spread with survivors sleeping in makeshift tarpaulin tents. Some beg or loot.
Bridges have collapsed, highways have been snapped in two by torrential rains and villages have been marooned from the outside world in what was already one of the poorest countries in Asia.
“I am here to urge the world to step up their generous support for Pakistan,” Ban told a news conference after visiting flood-hit areas.
“This disaster is far from over. The rains are still falling and could continue for weeks, and dams are at serious risk of rupture.”
Ban met both Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been a lightning rod for popular anger after traveling to Europe as the catastrophe unfolded and not cutting short his trip.
With no respite in sight for rains, the prime minister’s office on Sunday warned that a “second and third wave of floods might turn out to be more dangerous.” Officials say rains will continue and some reservoirs and dams could burst.
The meteorological department said heavy rains are expected in Punjab and the northwest and scattered rains in Sindh and Baluchistan over the next two days.
Pakistan’s government has been accused of being too slow to respond to the crisis with victims relying mostly on the military -- the most powerful institution in Pakistan -- and foreign aid agencies for help.
Analysts said a perception that Pakistan was corrupt coupled with Zardari’s visit to Europe at the time of the crisis had also done little to encourage foreign donors.
“I think the biggest question when it comes to foreign assistance to Pakistan is that of a low level of trust.” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Highlighting the lack of logistical support and helicopters for relief efforts, flour, cooking oil and rice were carried by mules along narrow mountain tracks to 150,000 people in Shahpur in the northwest Swat valley.
At least 500,000 tonnes of wheat have been destroyed by the floods. At Kot Addu in southern Punjab, thousands of bags lay ruined as workers were unable to move them quickly enough from rising floodwater.
“The river swallowed everything. We have no house no business, nothing to eat, nothing to wear,” said Nizam Ali, an Afghan refugee living in northwest Pakistan. “No one is helping us, it now looks as if we have no other choice but to go back to Afghanistan.”
Despite the government’s perceived failure to tackle the crisis, a military coup is unlikely. The army’s priority is fighting Taliban insurgents, and seizing power during a disaster would make no sense, analysts say.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and Gilani have said they would leave politics aside in the crisis, possibly helping to create more political stability.
The International Monetary Fund has warned of major economic harm and the Finance Ministry said it would miss this year’s 4.5 percent gross domestic product growth target.
Wheat, cotton and sugar crops have all suffered damage in a country where agriculture is a mainstay of the economy.
Additional reporting by Naeem Abbas in Kot Addu; Kamran Haider in Swat and Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ralph Boulton