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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Death toll increases in Pakistan flooding

Death toll tops 1,300 in Pakistani flooding.

The death toll climbed to more than 1,300 in Pakistan on Wednesday as the nation's military and emergency services struggled to cope with the flood waters that have washed across the landscape.

The Pakistan Disaster Authority has confirmed 1,313 deaths, although officials say the number could reach 1,500.

The authority also said 1,588 people have been injured and 352,291 people have been rescued. More than 722,000 houses have been damaged.

The Pakistani military has 55 helicopters and 621 boats taking part in aid and rescue efforts.

The flooding, which has affected some 14 million people, started in the northwest and has threatened places as far south as the port city of Karachi.

For many parts of southern Pakistan, the worst is yet to come.

The "Indus River at Kotri in Southern Sindh Province is likely to attain a very high to exceptionally high flood level," according to the Pakistani Meteorological Department. "Under this scenario, the inundation and flooding of low lying areas of district of Hyderabad, Thatta and adjoining areas in South Sindh."

Food and housing shortages are widespread.

"The assistance that we have so far provided has alleviated suffering, but relief operations need to be massively scaled up," said Martin Mogwanja, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan.

The United Nations will launch an initial Pakistani emergency response plan Wednesday with $400 million more in aid.

U.S. emergency relief teams continued to arrive in Peshawar to help, the U.S. State Department said. The U.S. Agency for International Development has committed $55 million in aid to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, it said. The United States has provided more than 435,000 meals.

This assistance is in addition to U.S. military efforts, which include rescue airlifts, food supplies and other deliveries provided by the Pentagon.

Of the total, $20 million will be used to expand humanitarian operations farther south as the flood zone expands, Mark Ward, acting director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, told reporters Tuesday.

Islamic militants, however, called on the Pakistani government to reject any aid provided by the United States for flood relief.

"For the sake of God, don't accept donations from the U.S. because they are our enemies," said Azem Tariq, spokesman for Pakistan Taliban. "Whatever amount the U.S. will give as donation, we will give the government of Pakistan more."

Many Pakistanis have not been happy with the government's response to the floods, calling it slow and ineffective. The Taliban's offer of aid may be an attempt to win the hearts and minds of flood victims.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has taken much of that heat. He was in England for talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron during the worst of the crisis.

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