U.S. to divert some Pakistan aid to flood recovery, official says

The army and aid organizations struggle to cope with the severity of a disaster that has killed more than 1,600 people and displaced millions.
By Karin Brulliard
Wednesday, August 25, 2010; 4:44 PM

SUKKUR, PAKISTAN - The United States is diverting some of its five-year, multibillion-dollar aid package for Pakistan to flood recovery and will reevaluate plans for the remainder because the disaster has dramatically altered the country's needs, the top U.S. aid official said Wednesday.

The floods, triggered by the start of monsoon rains a month ago, have submerged one-fifth of Pakistan, washed away entire settlements and sparked fears of unrest. More than a million homes have been destroyed. In places where schools or hospitals previously needed improvements, they will now have to be built from scratch.

"I fully envision some of the priorities will have to shift, and shift so that there's more of a recovery and reconstruction focus," Rajiv Shah, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told reporters here.

Shah was in Pakistan to see the destruction caused by the floods, which was apparent as his plane descended into this hardscrabble city in the southern province of Sindh, one of the hardest-hit areas. Below, a sea of opaque brown water, broken only by treetops, stretched to the horizon. It cloaked the sugarcane and wheat fields that sustain the region in normal times.

Under a raging sun, homeless families and their livestock sought shade along roadsides. Thousands of others were staying at a squalid tent camp, where aid workers briefed Shah on the numbers of sick children and their efforts to teach the brightly garbed women there about health and hygiene.

"Everything, everything was destroyed by the flood," said Baboo Shaikh, 65, who left his village near the city of Jacobabad 22 days before, a day before the water came and swept much of it away. Shaikh sat with his family of 15 in a low-slung, fly-infested tent, which he described as "congested."

Congress passed a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan last year - long before the flooding - and most of it was slated for development. Little has been doled out, but USAID officials have spent months planning where it would go, including to several "signature" projects related to water and energy.

On Wednesday, Shah said that "every part of the portfolio" would have to be reexamined, although even that could not begin until the floodwaters recede and needs could be assessed. For now, he said, $50 million of the package will be redirected to flood recovery.

Many areas previously deemed priorities - agriculture, power, irrigation - are likely to remain at the top of the agenda, Shah said. But the types of projects might have to be more rudimentary or broad, and new sets of long-term problems are likely to emerge.

"We will need to reassess the full extent of our commitment to the people of Pakistan and do whatever is most appropriate and most effective to really help people recover," Shah told reporters.

The American aid package was meant to strengthen the fledgling civilian government in a country with a strong tradition of military rule. But it was also intended to counter the rising influence of extremist Islamist groups, some of which are providing flood relief. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said that they could use the crisis as an opportunity to recruit fighters.

Shah ran into those forces - although apparently accidentally - on a visit Wednesday to a makeshift, U.S.-funded relief camp at a Sukkur school. The camp is touted by U.S. officials as being run by Save the Children and the U.N. World Food Program, which receive USAID funding.

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