South Asia

Flood-hit Pakistan cancels Independence Day events

Media captionFlood survivors are on the move and gathering in camps in Pakistan

Pakistan's president has directed that there should be no official celebrations of Independence Day on Saturday as the country tries to cope with devastating floods.

Asif Ali Zardari will instead spend the day touring affected regions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.

He has been heavily criticised at home for not taking a more direct role.

The region's worst flooding in 80 years has affected 14 million and killed 1,600, according to the UN.

Flood levels are expected to surge even higher along parts of the already dangerously swollen Indus river, with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) saying "major peaks" were expected next week in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Low-key

Mr Zardari has been bitterly criticised by opposition politicians and the media for pressing ahead with his European tour last week as the country was devastated by the floods.

He spent Thursday visiting affected areas in Sukkur in Sindh province, and has said that although he will still visit Russia next week, he will stay only a few hours instead of the scheduled two days.

His spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said in a statement on Friday: "President Asif Ali Zardari has directed that in view of the floods, no Independence Day celebrations will be held in the Presidency this year.

"He will spend the day with the flood-affected people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab."

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says there will be no special official gatherings or flag-raising ceremonies. Special parades at military corps headquarters will not take place and official buildings will not be specially lit.

The annual gathering and civic awards ceremony at the president's house will also not take place. Major firework, cultural and music shows will be cancelled.

Our correspondent says people will still be free to celebrate the public holiday as they see fit but such celebrations may be low-key this year as the mood is sombre. He says it is unlikely many objections will be raised to the president's move, with many appreciating that ostentatious festivities would be inappropriate.

'Further devastation'

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on Saturday and will hold talks with officials and visit flood-affected areas the following day.

Image caption The UN predicts billions of dollars will be needed in the long-term

The UN on Wednesday launched a $459m (£294m) appeal for emergency aid but says billions will be needed in the long-term.

The president welcomed Mr Ban's visit, Mr Babar said, adding that "the colossal damage to life, property, livestock and infrastructure was so huge that it could be faced only with the concerted efforts of the people of Pakistan and the support and assistance of the international community".

NDMA spokesman Ahmed Kamal warned there could be "further devastation as we are expecting two major peaks in the Indus system".

He said places downstream of the Kotri barrage - a flood barrier in Sindh - and areas on either side of the Taunsa barrage in Punjab were likely to take the brunt of this surge.

Several villages in Thatta district, downstream of Kotri, have been evacuated. It is a big agricultural zone that has some of the richest farms in the country.

Our correspondent, M Ilyas Khan, says the cost of agricultural losses is still hard to quantify.

Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Mohammad Gondal put the figure at "billions of rupees", although agricultural associations have been more specific.

The Crops Protection Association put the loss of the cotton crop alone at $1.8bn.

The Agricultural Farms Association said 17 million acres of farm land was under water, with 100,000 cattle and more than one million tonnes of privately stored wheat lost. Some 3,000 fish farms, 2,000 poultry farms and 1,000 tractors had been destroyed, it said.

Aid agencies continue to struggle to cope with the scale of the disaster.

Jacques de Maio, head of operations for South Asia at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said: "Clearly at this point in time, the overall relief effort cannot keep pace with the overall scale of the emergency."

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed that "every single penny" of aid would be accounted for.

Medics in a relief camp in southern Punjab told the BBC the main challenges they faced were gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and skin infections.

But they are also increasingly worried about malaria, which is being worsened by all the stagnant water.

BBC World Service's Newshour will broadcast a one-hour programme on the Pakistan floods, hosted by Lyse Doucet from Karachi, at 1200 GMT on Saturday 14 August.

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