Situation in Flood-Hit Pakistan Still 'Critical', Say Relief Groups

Nearly two months after extremely heavy monsoon rains unleashed floods in northwest Pakistan, Christian relief groups on the ground say the situation there remains "critical."

"Many people are living in tents and makeshift shelters without access to food, clean water, sanitation or medical care," reported Joanne Fairley, Lutheran World Relief's regional director for Asia and the Middle East.

"Their crops are destroyed, their livelihoods washed away. Disease is a constant threat," added Anila Gill, executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan. "Lives can be saved if [we] act quickly to provide the most vulnerable with aid."

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Since the end of July, the flood disaster has spread from northwest Pakistan to the south, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting another 17 million.

Raging floodwaters have washed away homes, bridges, schools, water systems and medical facilities across large sections of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well as parts of Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir provinces of Pakistan.

As the rains continued in August, the flooding began to reach Sindh in the southern part of Pakistan. Over four million people have been affected in Sindh alone and over 300,000 houses demolished while 50,000 acres of agricultural land is under water.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations warned recently that the flooding has stretched thin the Pakistani military and will hamper its fight against terrorists.

And earlier this month, World Vision, the largest Christian relief group in the world, said the emergency in Pakistan would "get worse before it gets better."

"The people affected by this devastating flood have a long road ahead as they work to rebuild their lives and livelihoods," added LWR president John Nunes.

The European Union, which has committed euro70 million ($89 million) to helping Pakistan recover from the devastation, has reportedly been looking for a long-term aid strategy to help the country get back on its feet amid fears that Islamic extremists could exploit the flooding crisis to strengthen their hold on parts of the country close to its border with Afghanistan.

On Thursday, EU leaders will gather for a summit in Brussels and are expected to decide on whether or not to waive World Trade Organization tariffs levied on Pakistan's exports as a way of helping the flood-devastated country boost its economy.

Such a move could be worth between euro230-euro300 million ($290-$380 million) a year for Pakistan, a diplomat familiar with the talks told The Associated Press.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who met Pakistan's foreign minister separately last Thursday to discuss the flood tragedy, told reporters the bloc needs a "comprehensive approach" that includes not only humanitarian aid, but also helping Pakistan fight terrorism and boost trade.

An estimated one million homes in Pakistan have been damaged or destroyed by the floods - five times as many as were hit by this year's earthquake in Haiti.

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