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U.S. Increases Pakistan Flood Aid Contribution; Sen. Kerry To Visit Flood-Hit Pakistan

“The State Department said Thursday that the U.S. financial commitment to Pakistan flood relief has reached $76 million,” VOA News reports (Gollust, 8/12).

“On assistance to Pakistan, to date, approximately $76 million in assistance has been provided … by the U.S. to the flood-affected populations in Pakistan,” Mark Toner, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department, said at a press briefing on Thursday, according to a transcript. “As of this morning, the additional money that the U.S. is providing is to Save the Children, and that’s 4.1 million that will be used for food vouchers, enabling flood victims to purchase food in their local markets,” he said (8/12).

The State Department also said that Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) “will visit Pakistan next week to survey damage from the country’s flood disaster,” according to VOA News, which notes that “Kerry is a key sponsor of the long-term U.S. civilian aid plan for Pakistan approved by Congress last year. … Kerry will be the highest-level U.S. political figure to visit since the flooding began last month” (8/12). Dan Feldman, the U.S. deputy special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Kerry’s trip will be a “critical visit to help raise the profile among publics both in the U.S. and internationally,” Agence France-Presse reports (Mansoor, 8/13).

U.S. Marines, Helicopters Arrive In Pakistan As Additional Floods, Health Issues Expected

Meanwhile on the ground, “[a] shipload of U.S. Marines and helicopters arrived to boost relief efforts” in the country, the Associated Press reports. “The USS Peleliu arrived off the coast near Karachi on Thursday along with helicopters and about 1,000 Marines. The helicopters will fly to flood-hit areas and rescue stranded people and deliver food and other supplies,” the news service writes.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for more aid during a flight over “parts of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan provinces. Seen from the air, the extent of the disaster was clear, with the aircraft often flying for many minutes over a mostly flooded landscape,” the AP writes. “All I say is that we need more help from our international friends,” Gilani said. “We need more such helicopters because the magnitude of the destruction was far more” than previous estimates (Ahmed, 8/12).

Also Thursday, Pakistani “President Asif Ali Zardari made his first visit to regions swamped by Pakistan’s worst ever floods” and aid workers said additional supplies are needed urgently, Bloomberg/Boston Globe reports.

“We need relief supplies immediately, not today, not tomorrow but right now,” Ahmed Kamal, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority, said. “Mosquito nets, tents, tarpaulins, kits to prevent cholera, ready-to-eat meals, and water-purifying tablets are all needed,” the news service writes (Anis, 8/13).

The country also “issued new flood warnings on Thursday that could last into the weekend as government and relief agencies strained to confront the toll from a growing humanitarian disaster,” the New York Times reports.

“Beyond the daily rising toll of the dead, displaced and starving, experts assessing the crisis said much remained to be learned of the short-term relief needs and the longer-term economic challenges that Pakistan was facing from the floods. … ‘It’s very difficult because we have not been able to access all areas,’ said Dr. Irshad Shaikh, an expert on such crises with the World Health Organization. ‘To be frank, we do not yet have a countrywide picture’ of the need for aid,” the newspaper writes.

Aid workers in the country are prioritizing “food, water and shelter, while health workers focus on preventing diseases. The government and relief agencies are sending emergency tents, mosquito nets, food, water-purifying tablets and cholera prevention kits,” the New York Times notes. The WHO’s Shaikh “said health risks included diarrhea and skin and respiratory infections, while immunization efforts had begun against measles and polio” (Masood/Dres, 8/12).

A second New York Times article looks at the possible threat of water-borne disease outbreaks. “Health workers said that while supplies of food and safe drinking water have been a priority, they have been alarmed by health hazards from dirty floodwater warming in the daytime summer heat,” according to the newspaper. Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian effort, said health officials had received reports of about 36,000 potentially lethal cases of acute diarrhea. “If we don’t act fast enough, the death toll will increase,” he said (Drew/Gillani, 8/13).

The AP also reports on the brewing health crisis resulting from the flooding. “Fever, stomach problems and skin diseases are spreading among Pakistani flood victims, officials said Friday, adding another dimension of danger to a crisis that could get even worse, with the U.N. warning that dams in the south may burst,” the new service writes. To address the health situation, the U.S. “said Friday that it would give $3 million to help establish 15 treatment centers for waterborne illnesses in the aftermath of the floods,” according to the AP. The U.S. is also giving out hand soaps and has mobile water treatment units that are capable of providing clean drinking water for 10,000 people per day, a U.S. Embassy statement said, the AP writes (Tanveer, 8/13).

Abdul Basit, a Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson, said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in the country late Saturday to survey flood damage and discuss relief efforts, AFP/Vancouver Sun reports. “He will discuss relief efforts with government leaders on Sunday and visit flood-devastated areas the same day,” Basit said (8/13).

In related news, ClimateWire/New York Times examines the possible effect a recent “string of devastating natural disasters” could have on global food prices.

Some fear that natural disasters, such as the floods in Pakistan and China, could result in “a wave of climate-induced food price shocks of the sort that sparked rioting in the developing world two years ago,” the news service writes. “But international agriculture experts say those concerns are unfounded. Though they acknowledge dramatic spikes in wheat and corn, and new pricing pressure on rice, U.N. and other food policy experts say data show global food inventories are still healthy and that declining production in some parts of the world will be offset by bumper crops elsewhere.”

The article looks at how recent developments in Russia, Pakistan and China could alter food prices. It also considers the implications of a recent study, which found that higher night temperatures could slow rice production (Gronewold, 8/12).