Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, made an emotional appeal to international donors on Sunday to back the UN’s $460m (€360m, £295m) emergency aid appeal for victims of the Pakistan floods, saying the disaster was “far from over”.
“This has been a heart-wrenching day for me,” Mr Ban said after flying over the hard-hit areas with Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president. “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”
Mr Ban described the situation in the troubled region as worse than that caused by the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, which Islamabad at the time said had killed more than 70,000 people.
About 1,500 people have been reported killed in the floods so far, Pakistani officials say, and the loss to the country’s infrastructure is far greater than in the earthquake. Islamabad says 20m people have been hit by the disaster, which has affected an area the size of Italy.
But the crisis has yet to trigger the kind of aid witnessed in the aftermath of calamities such as 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami or the Haiti earthquake in January this year.
The UN says it has raised just over a quarter of its appeal target. The sluggish contributions have come against a backdrop of international concerns over the relationship between Pakistan’s security forces and militants, and popular anger at Mr Zardari’s government, although UN officials have played down the likelihood of a link.
“I just think it’s a bit soon to conclude that people have something against Pakistan because of terrorism or because of corruption,” John Holmes, the UN humanitarian aid chief, who travelled with Mr Ban, told Associated Press.
Some donors have also made contributions that fall outside the scope of the UN appeal. The US and UK have made the biggest overall donations to flood relief in Pakistan, having pledged at least $76m and $32m respectively.
However, the response to the appeal stands in sharp contrast to the outpouring of funds that followed the Haiti earthquake, which elicited almost $1bn in pledges within 10 days.
In Pakistan, aid workers are struggling to keep up with a crisis that seems to grow by the hour. Water levels rose again on Sunday in parts of the southern Sindh province, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes for crowded camps.
“We’ve received nothing,” said Mohammed Mithal Dool, who abandoned his farm for a tent in the town of Sukkur. “It’s only local people and shopkeepers who are giving us food and water.”
Mr Zardari has faced widespread criticism for his government’s handling of the crisis. The military – which remains Pakistan’s most powerful institution – has taken the lead. Army helicopters flew over Sindh province at the weekend, their crews dropping bottled water to people waiting with outstretched hands in semi-submerged villages.
Pakistan’s relief officials gave warning on Sunday that more than 30,000 people were still trapped in devastated areas and waiting to be rescued.
Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, said in an independence day address on Saturday that 20m people had been displaced by the floods. He also drew comparisons with the bloody 1947 partition of the subcontinent, which ripped families apart and triggered a migration of 10m refugees. The UN has issued lower estimates for the numbers affected by the floods, saying 5m have had their houses damaged or destroyed.
The UN says health workers are preparing to cope with up to 140,000 cases of cholera after confirming the first case of the disease in the flood-ravaged north-west this weekend.