Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday 20 million people had been affected by the worst floods in the country’s history as the UN confirmed the first cholera case.
Independence day celebrations were cancelled as floods continued to bring misery to millions and aid agencies warned of a “second wave” of deaths from disease.
“The floods affected some 20 million people, destroyed standing crops and food storages worth billions of dollars, causing colossal loss to national economy,” Gilani said in a televised address to the nation.
“I would appeal to the world community to extend a helping hand to fight this calamity.”
The United Nations has appealed for 460 million dollars to deal with the immediate aftermath of the floods but charities say the figure falls far short of what is needed.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday to discuss the relief effort and visit flood-hit areas.
“This is the worst-ever calamity for us and the entire nation will have to show courage to face it,” Gilani said, adding, “I am pretty confident that the nation will once again emerge victorious from this crisis”.
“Outbreak of epidemics in the flood-hit areas is a serious threat, which can further compound the already grave situation,” Gilani added, as the UN confirmed the country’s first cholera case in Mingora, the main town in the northwestern district of Swat.
Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, said at least 36,000 people were reportedly suffering from acute watery diarrhoea.
“We’re not suggesting that everyone who has acute watery diarrhoea has cholera, but cholera is certainly a concern and that’s why we’re stepping up our efforts to treat cholera,” he said.
Arif Mehmood, Pakistan’s chief meteorological official, said no new wave of flooding was expected to hit any river in the next couple of days.
Charities said relief for those affected by the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history was lagging far behind what was needed.
“There are millions of people needing food, clean water and medical care and they need it right now,” said Jacques de Maio, head of operations for South Asia at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Clearly at this point in time the overall relief effort cannot keep pace with the overall scale of the emergency.” he said.
Humanitarian agencies in Pakistan were monitoring the risk of “a second wave of deaths induced by the floods in the shape of water-borne diseases”, de Maio said, adding that it was impossible to measure the full scale of the disaster.
Celebrations marking the anniversary Saturday of Pakistan’s 1947 independence from British colonial rule have been scrapped by President Asif Ali Zardari, his spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, announced.
The embattled leader has come under fire from flood victims and the opposition after pressing on with a trip to Europe last week, despite the mounting emergency.
In his independence day message, Zardari said: “The best way to celebrate this day is to reach out to the victims of the natural disaster, heal their wounds and help them to help themselves.”
“I salute the courage and heroism of flood victims and assure them that the government will do everything possible to alleviate their suffering,” the president added.
The United Nations believes 1,600 people have died in the disaster, while Islamabad has confirmed 1,343 deaths.
“Secretary General Ban arrives here tomorrow to see for himself the flood affected areas (and) demonstrate the support of the UN and the international community to the government and people of Pakistan,” UN spokeswoman Ishrat Rizvi told AFP.
With up to two million people requiring shelter and six million depending on humanitarian assistance to survive, troops distributed national flags among the people in the flood-hit northwestern town of Nowshera on Saturday.
“We lost our houses and everything in the floods. We urgently need food and medicines and not the flags,” Rasul Khan, 80, told AFP.
Meanwhile 90 percent of the 500,000 residents of Jacobabad left for safer ground after authorities warned that flood waters might deluge the southwestern city, provincial agriculture minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo told AFP.