Pakistan reopens key highway to speed aid to flood victims

Pakistani engineers and troops cleared a key highway Thursday that will enable aid workers to speed supplies to survivors of devastating floods that have left thousands homeless and killed 1,486 people.

Traffic between the flood-hit city of Quetta and southern Sindh province remained suspended for weeks after floods damaged the key highway. The blockage had forced the military to deliver aid to victims by helicopters and boats.

As they reopened the route, engineers in flood-hit Baluchistan provinces also restored the power supply for millions, according to a government statement. And the disaster’s deady toll became more clear. On Thursday, the United Nations’ children agency said 528 children were among those killed in the floods.

The National Flood Response and Coordination Centre said the worst-ever deluge destroyed 390 bridges and washed away over 12,000 kilometers of roads across the country. The inundation of roads affected the government’s response to floods, and people complained they were still waiting for the government’s help.

The crisis affected over 33 million people and displaced over half a million people who are still living in tents and make-shift homes. The water has destroyed 70% of wheat, cotton and other crops in Pakistan. At one point, a third of the country’s territory was submerged.

Initially, Pakistan estimated that the floods caused $10 billion in damages, but now multiple economists say the cost is more like $30 billion in damages. That’s five times more than what Pakistan’s government will get under the 2019 bailout signed with the International Monetary Fund.

So far, 100 flights from different countries and international aid agencies have delivered the much-needed supplies to Pakistan, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday. The U.N. weeks ago urged the international community to generously help Pakistan in relief, rescue and rehabilitation work.

On Wednesday, the U.N. resident coordinator in Pakistan, Julien Harneis, told reporters that the member states had committed so far $150 million in response to an emergency appeal for $160 million. So far, he said, $38 million pledges from the world community had been converted into assistance for Pakistan.

The impoverished nation is diverting funds allocated for development projects to help flood victims. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif this week promised the country’s homeless people that the government will ensure they are paid to rebuild and return to their lives. With winter just weeks away, displaced people living in tents are worried about their future.

Sharif on Thursday traveled to Uzbekistan to attend a summit of a security group formed by Beijing and Moscow as a counterweight to U.S. influence. Washington is one of the most generous responders to floods in Pakistan. The United States has announced $50 million aid, which is being delivered by military planes.

On the sideline of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Sharif was expected to brief world leaders about the climate-induced damages caused by floods in his struggling Islamic nation.

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