ISLAMABAD – Pakistan is grappling with food shortages after deadly floods left the impoverished country's agriculture belt underwater, the prime minister told the Turkish president by phone, as authorities scaled up efforts Monday to deliver food, tents and other items.
Shahbaz Sharif spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan overnight to thank Turkey for dispatching food, tents and medicine by 12 military aircraft, four trains and Turkish Red Crescent trucks. The International Rescue Committee estimated that the floods have damaged more than 3.6 million acres of crops in Pakistan.
A government statement said Sharif briefed Erdogan about the government's relief activities and sought assistance from Turkey in overcoming the “food shortage." Sharif also sought help from Turkey on reconstruction work in the flood-hit areas.
More than 660,000 people, including women and children, are living at relief camps and in makeshift homes after floods damaged their homes across the country and forced them to move to safer places. Pakistan, the country's military, U.N. agencies and local charities are providing food to these flood victims.
Pakistan heavily relies on its agriculture and occasionally exports its surplus wheat to Afghanistan and other countries. Now it is in talks to import badly needed wheat and vegetables, including to people not directly affected by floods.
Meanwhile, the price of vegetables and other food has started increasing.
Until last week, floodwater was covering around a third of Pakistan, including the country's agriculture belt in eastern Punjab and southern Sundh provinces which are the main food basket. Initially, Pakistan said the floods caused $10 billion in damages, but authorities say the damages are far greater than the initial estimates.
That's forced Pakistan and the United Nations to urge the international community to send more help.
In response, U.N. agencies and various countries, including the United States, have sent more than 60 planeloads of aid. Since last week, Washington has sent three military planes to deliver food.
Three more U.S. military planes carrying aid landed in Pakistan's worst flood-hit southern Sindh province Monday, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. So far ten such flights have arrived in the area.
Washington days ago set up a humanitarian air bridge to flood-ravaged Pakistan to deliver aid through 20 flights, which will arrive in Pakistan before September 16. The U.S. authorities also plan to distribute cash among needy people.
Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a visit to Pakistan traveled to flood-hit areas, where deluges from floods are still causing damage.
Guterres has called on the world to stop “sleepwalking” through the dangerous environmental crisis. He assured Sharif in a meeting with him that he will do his best to highlight the ordeal of Pakistanis facing floods.
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said at a news conference Monday that Pakistani authorities and international aid agencies are assessing the flood damage that has affected 33 million people. He said the government would proceed with transparency in the distribution of aid.
Meanwhile, the IRC, a prominent international aid group, on Monday warned of mounting economic losses, likely leading to food shortages and an increase in violence against women. In a statement, the group said the floods destroyed over 3.6 million acres of crops in Pakistan.
“The acute loss of farmland and agriculture is likely to be felt in the months and years ahead. It is vital that the humanitarian response remains fully funded in order to give the people of Pakistan the best chance of rebuilding their lives,” said Shabnam Baloch, IRC’s director in Pakistan.
She said so far the IRC has reached 29,000 women and girls with aid in flood-hit areas.
Deluges from the rising Indus river and the Lake Manchar in the Sindh province were still posing threat to Dadu, a district in the south where rescuers using boats were evacuating villagers to safer places Monday. Light rain is expected in flood-hit areas this week, according to the Meteorological Department.