Pakistan's cricketers donate bonuses to floods relief

Pakistani villager carries two boys as he walks through water in Baseera More than 17 million people have been affected by the floods, the UN says

Pakistan's top cricketers have dug into their pockets to help the flood relief effort in the country.

Players and officials on the national team agreed to donate bonuses totalling $54,400 (£35,000; 4.6m rupees).

They pledged half their bonuses after beating England in the third Test last week, the Pakistan Cricket Board said.

The rare good news came as an earthquake in the Hindu Kush mountains rocked parts of the country, although there were no reports of casualties.

Tuesday's 5.2 magnitude tremor shook the Swat Valley and regions close to Hindu Kush, Zahid Rafi, director of the seismic centre at Pakistan's meteorological department, told the AFP news agency.

As flood waters were predicted to rise further in some areas, Pakistan's leaders held high-level talks aimed at preventing a mass health crisis.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government was "seriously concerned" about the potential spread of epidemic diseases in the flood-hit country.

New flooding fears

Doctors in many areas are reportedly struggling to cope with the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.

The UN says more than 17 million people have been affected by the floods, with about 1.2 million homes destroyed.

The task of coping with disease will be made more difficult by the sheer numbers of people cut off by the floods.

An estimated 800,000 people are stranded, the UN said - many in the mountainous north west, where roads and bridges have been swept away.

The United States has deployed at least 18 helicopters to fly regular relief missions, but the UN said it would need at least 40 more heavy-duty aircraft working at full capacity to reach those who have been cut off.

There are fears of further flooding as the Indus river at Hyderabad, already at a 50-year high, is expected to rise even more.

Mr Gilani told the meeting of senior doctors, health ministry officials, UN representatives and members of non-governmental organisations that Pakistan was experiencing "the worst natural calamity of its history".

"As human misery continues to mount, we are seriously concerned with spread of epidemic diseases," he said.

"There is likelihood of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery, especially in children who are already weak and vulnerable."

Analysis

There is a growing need for a fast and effective response to the potential health crisis here. Millions of people, directly affected by the floods, are now at risk. Children and the elderly are a particular concern.

The prime minister's office said that the special emergency section of the ministry of health would take a leading role - coordinating all relief efforts.

The government is facing a lot of criticism for its handling of this crisis - and the PM's move could be seen as a response. He is seizing the initiative and taking a leading role.

There is no doubt that the need will be huge. About a third of the country's female health workers have themselves been displaced by the floods - and the government estimates that in the next six months, about half a million women in the affected areas will give birth.

Pakistan's national health co-ordinator said the immediate health situation in the flood zone was under control but the threat had not passed.

"Health problems usually arise in flood-affected areas after four to six weeks, and we need to be alert and prepared to tackle the situation," Dr Jahanzeb Orakza said.

Residents of Muzaffargarh in the Punjab region told the BBC's Asian Network they were struggling to cope.

"Those whose homes have survived are getting the food they need. The people who lost their homes, they're not getting anything," said 11-year-old Mansur Rizman.

"They need to give to the people whose homes have been destroyed."

'Lasting impact'

The World Food Programme says it already has enough food in Pakistan to feed six million people for a month but distribution has been hampered by a lack of resources and the country's shattered infrastructure.

Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh is due to attend talks with the IMF on Wednesday to discuss easing restrictions on its $11bn loan package so it better fits the country's new economic reality.

Officials say the floods have destroyed more than 1.7m hectares (4.25m acres) of land, which will have a significant impact on the agricultural sector and the country's economic growth.

The IMF's regional director, Masood Ahmed told Reuters the flood would have "a major and lasting impact" on Pakistan.

Map of Pakistan's flooded areas, 23 August 2010

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