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With 20 million homeless, U.N. head urges speedy aid for Pakistan flood victims

At least 1,600 are dead and millions are homeless after monsoon rains bloated rivers, submerged villages and triggered landslides in Pakistan.

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By Chris Brummitt
Monday, August 16, 2010

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that he has never seen anything like the flood disaster in Pakistan after surveying the devastation and urged foreign donors to speed up assistance to the 20 million people made homeless.

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Ban's comments reflect the concern of the international community about the unfolding disaster in Pakistan, which is battling al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, has a weak and unpopular government, and an anemic economy propped up by international assistance.

"This has been a heart-wrenching day for me," Ban said after flying over the hard-hit areas with President Asif Ali Zardari. "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."

The floods that began more than two weeks ago in Pakistan's mountainous northwest have hit about one-quarter of the country, especially its agricultural heartland. While the death toll of 1,500 is relatively small, the number of people whose lives have been disrupted is staggering.

The U.N. has appealed for an initial $460 million to provide relief, but only 20 percent has been given. Once the floods recede, billions more will be needed for reconstruction and getting people back to work in the already-poor nation of 170 million people.

"Waves of flood must be met with waves of support from the world," Ban said. He noted that visa restrictions had been eased for humanitarian workers and that they could get visas on arrival at Pakistan airports.

-- Associated Press

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