Pakistan PM cancels U.S. trip because of floods

Story highlights

  • Prime minister will personally oversee rescue and relief efforts
  • At least 248 people have died from flooding
  • At least 5.7 million people have been affected by the flooding
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is calling off a visit to the United States due to floods that have killed hundreds in his country, his office said Friday.
Gilani was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly, but Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will go in his place, the prime minister's office said.
Instead, the prime minister will "personally supervise the ongoing rescue and relief efforts for the flood-affected areas," a government statement said.
The Pakistani disaster authority said Friday that the death toll now totaled 248 since August 10 as a result of flooding, including 52 children and 67 women.
The southeastern Sindh province looked almost tranquil, with water standing anywhere from ankle-high to past the knees in otherwise empty land. But days before, the land wasn't empty. Thousands of homes were swept away or destroyed by the flooding.
At least 5.7 million people have been affected by the flooding since August, the disaster authority said.
Friday's statement also said that 578 others were injured by the flooding, and that more than 900,000 houses were partially or fully damaged.
More than 400,000 affected residents are now living in more than 2,500 relief camps.
In the hard-hit city of Badin, authorities ran into another problem. Local residents who were left with nothing after the flood were blocking the road, refusing to allow aid trucks through until their needs were met first.
A large number of police had arrived at the scene to negotiate with the protesters.
The United Nations World Food Program said that since Monday they had been distributing food, starting in Badin. So far, more than 15,000 people have received assistance, the agency said.
The WFP estimated that 73% of food crops in the flood zone and 36% of livestock were lost or destroyed.
Last year, Pakistan was also the site of massive and deadly flooding.
In August 2010, weeks of flooding caused $9.7 billion in damages to homes, roads, farms and other parts of southwest Pakistan. More than 1,700 people died in the 2010 flooding, and more than 20 million were displaced.
"The nature of this (current) disaster in some ways poses challenges that are more complex than those of 2010," Kristen Elsby, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told the state-run IRIN news service. She said the main factor in this was that displaced populations were scattered, with many based along roadsides.
"We did not know where to go when the rains swept in, took away our goats and destroyed the vegetable crop we had cultivated," Azrah Bibi, a resident of Badin, told IRIN. She and her extended family of eight were camped outside the city.
"We saw some people here and joined them. Some people delivered one lot of food, but there has been very little since, and it is hard to cook anyway since we have no facilities other than a fire from bits of timber and scrap," she said.