International

Pakistan's Zardari Makes First Flood-Zone Visit

Pakistani flood survivors take shelter i

Pakistani flood survivors take shelter in a tree in the flooded area of Kahn Gargh village on August 12, 2010.  ARIF ALI/AFP hide caption

itoggle caption ARIF ALI/AFP

Back in Pakistan from a European trip he refused to abbreviate to return early to his monsoon-ravaged country, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari made his first visit to the flood affected area Thursday.

The Pakistani government estimates that 14 million people were affected by the flooding which has driven millions from their homes in the search for dry ground.

Some estimates are that more than 1,600 have died.

The Dawn newspaper reported that Zardari tried to project an image of a government in control, which conflicts with what many of his citizens have said they see on the ground.

Pakistan's state television PTV broadcast silent footage of Zardari, who comes from Sindh, wearing a traditional cap and patting the head of an elderly women before visiting Sukkur barrage and viewing the water flow.

A local government official told AFP that he distributed relief goods among flood victims at a camp in a college, assuring survivors that the government was doing the maximum possible to assist them.

β€œDon't feel alone. We are here with you and will do everything to get you resettled as soon as possible,” the official quoted Zardari as saying.

As NPR's Julie McCarthy has reported in recent weeks, the Pakistani government has been severely criticized for not helping enough of those who were displaced and in dire need of help.

The Pakistani government has asked the international community for help and other nations are responding.

The U.S., for instance, has dispatched Navy and Marine helicopters to help with relief efforts.

Meanwhile, the UN has requested $460 million for immediate relief for the millions of people in Pakistan who need help and quickly.

A Pakistani meteorologist cited in the Dawn story said that the rain-swollen rivers were receding.

The receding waters are obviously good news. But the devastation in Pakistan is so severe, with so many already poor families losing their homes and the ability to feed themselves and relatives, that this crisis is still actually in the early stages.

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