While the American news media has turned to mid-term elections and football season, Pakistan continues to flood. It is natural for coverage to fade after a natural disaster is over. However, in Pakistan, heavy rains continue. While water is receding in some areas, it is arriving in new ones every day. The floods are now moving down the Indus River to southern Pakistan. To put this in an American context, an area the size of Maine all the way to Florida has been affected. Six weeks in, the magnitude of the disaster and the enormous rebuilding effort ahead still merits front page attention. At the State Department, the long-term effort to help Pakistan with flood relief and early recovery began immediately and will continue long-term. The U.S. government has now donated $345 million, making it the largest single donor to the flood relief efforts. American military helicopters have rescued 15,000 people and delivered more than seven million pounds of relief supplies.
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrookevisited Pakistan from September 14-18 to survey flood-affected areas and review U.S. humanitarian assistance. Ambassador Holbrooke visited camps in Thatta, one of the worst affected districts in Pakistan. The sea was on high tide when flooded river water reached it multiplying the damage. By August 28, 175,000 people had left their homes, camping on the main road under open sky, surrounded by the suffering flood affectees and their last remaining livestock. Now the Makli tombs — a revered archeological site — are surrounded by flood affectees; it is on higher ground, so the people have fled there.
Describing the magnitude of the disaster, Ambassador Holbrooke emphasized that “In the over 40 years that I have visited refugee camps, I have never seen so many refugees outside the camps along the dykes, along the roads, not wanting to be separated from their land even though their land is under water, in such difficult conditions.” Ambassador Holbrooke then traveled to Multan, one of the oldest cities in southern Punjab, where the waters have started to recede. There he joined Foreign Minister Qureshi, and met with dozens of local humanitarian groups working tirelessly on immediate relief efforts.
Ambassador Holbrooke also made it a priority to engage with both local and international press to explain how U.S. efforts are supporting the Pakistan government’s plans for recovery and long-term reconstruction. In press conferences, radio interviews, meetings with news editors, and press roundtables, Holbrooke explained where the money was going and underscored “the U.S. government is doing this because it is the right thing to do. We do it because we care about the Pakistani people. It is a humanitarian action linking the people of our country with the people of Pakistan.”
During Holbrooke’s visit to Pakistan, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 1613 expressing solidarity with Pakistan and confirming the “commitment of the people of the United States to partner with the people of Pakistan to respond to the immediate crisis and build the foundations for a successful and lasting recovery.” On September 19, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the UN High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Flood Emergency in Pakistan in support of the UN’s largest-ever natural disaster appeal for $2 billion. The United States will continue to support Pakistan as it weathers the worst storms in its history. As Secretary Clinton said at the UN, “As the waters recede, the people of Pakistan must know that they will not be alone. They can count on my country and on the international community to stand with them.”
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