ISLAMABAD – ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan will need billions of dollars to recover from its worst floods in history, further straining a country already dependent on foreign aid to prop up its economy and back its war against Islamist militants, the U.N. said Sunday.
The warning came as officials said at least 53 people were killed in landslides in northern Pakistan and authorities rushed to evacuate thousands of people threatened by flooding that submerged villages in the south. The new devastation added to the disaster that has affected an estimated 15 million people.
The government has struggled to cope with the scale of the disaster, which has killed at least 1,500 people, prompting the international community to help by donating tens of millions of dollars and providing relief supplies.
But the U.N. special envoy for the disaster, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the need for foreign aid would be much greater going forward and could be difficult to procure given the ongoing financial crisis around the world.
The U.N. is still calculating specific figures, but Ripert said in an interview with The Associated Press that "the emergency phase will require hundreds of millions of dollars and the recovery and reconstruction part will require billions of dollars."
Much of that money will be needed in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the site of the worst damage from floods that first hit two weeks ago after extremely heavy monsoon rains. But as the floodwaters rushed south, they also brought death and destruction to the central and southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
The Indus river overflowed its banks near the city of Sukkur in Sindh on Sunday, submerging the village of Mor Khan Jatoi with chest-high water and destroying many of its 1,500 mud houses, said Dadal Morai, a villager who lost his home.
Many flood victims have complained that they have not received aid quickly enough or at all, further undermining support for a government that was already unpopular.
"We are sitting on the bank with nothing in our hands; no shelter, no food," said another flood victim in Sukkur, Allah Bux. "We are helpless and in pain."
Thousands of other villagers in Sindh sought to escape the same fate by fleeing by donkey cart or on foot with their cattle and possessions in tow.
In Pakistan's far north, landslides triggered by heavy rains killed at least 53 people in two villages in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, senior government official Ali Mohamamd Sikandar said Sunday.
The landslides Saturday killed 37 people in the village of Kumra and 16 in Ghanche, he said. All the bodies in Ghanche have been recovered. Only 12 bodies have been found in Kumra, but the other 25 who are missing are presumed dead.
Even those Pakistanis whose cities and towns were relatively unscathed by the floods felt the pain Sunday from skyrocketing fruit and vegetable prices caused by the vast stretches of crops destroyed by the floodwaters.
The rising prices threaten to amplify misery in a country where many residents were already struggling with poverty and food insecurity before the floods struck.
The prices of basic items such as tomatoes, onions, potatoes and squash have in some cases quadrupled in recent days, putting them out of reach for many Pakistanis.
"It is like a fire erupted in the market," said Mohammad Siddiq as he purchased vegetables in the city of Lahore. "Floods and rains have made these things unaffordable."
At least 1.4 million acres (570,000 hectares) of crops were destroyed in Punjab, the breadbasket for the rest of Pakistan, said the U.N. Many more crops were devastated in the northwest, where many residents were still trying to recover from intense battles between the Taliban and the army last year.
"The flooding has caused massive damage to crops and also to the reserve that people had at their houses," said Amjad Jamal, spokesman for the World Food Program, which has provided food to more than 265,000 people in the northwest.
"Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was a food insecure province even before the floods, and a lot of areas are such that people can't afford even one meal a day," said Jamal.
At least 4 million people will need food assistance across Pakistan for the next three months at a cost of nearly $100 million, said Jamal.
Many foreign countries have stepped in to help the government, including the U.S., which has pledged millions of dollars and provided six military helicopters to help evacuate victims from the northwest and deliver much needed food and water.
But the government has also had competition from hard-line Islamist charities that have provided victims with food and shelter.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked for more help from the international community Sunday, saying the government couldn't cope with the disaster on its own.
"We will exhaust our resources to rescue, provide food, medicine and shelter, but it is beyond our capacity, so we will appeal to the world," said Gilani during a visit to Sukkur.
Associated Press writers Babar Dogar in Lahore, Khalid Tanveer in Kot Addu, Ashraf Khan in Sukkur and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.