Pakistani PM says his flooded country faces food shortages

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan is grappling with food shortages after deadly floods left the country’s impoverished agricultural belt underwater, the prime minister told the Turkish president by phone, as authorities stepped up efforts Monday to deliver food, tents and other items.

Shahbaz Sharif spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan overnight to thank Turkey for sending food, tents and medicine by 12 military planes, four trains and Turkish Red Crescent trucks. The International Rescue Committee estimated that the floods damaged more than 3.6 million acres of crops in Pakistan.

According to a government statement, Sharif briefed Erdogan on the government’s relief activities and requested Turkey’s help to overcome the “food shortage”. Sharif also requested Turkey’s help for reconstruction works in flood-affected areas.

More than 660,000 people, including women and children, are living in relief camps and makeshift homes after floods damaged their homes across the country and forced them to move to safer places. Pakistan, the country’s military, UN agencies and local charities are providing food to flood victims.

Pakistan relies heavily on its agriculture and occasionally exports its surplus wheat to Afghanistan and other countries. It is now in talks to import badly needed wheat and vegetables, including for people not directly affected by the floods.

Meanwhile, the price of vegetables and other foods began to rise.

Until last week, floodwaters covered around a third of Pakistan, including the country’s agricultural belt in eastern Punjab and southern Sundh provinces which are the main food basket. Initially, Pakistan said the floods caused $10 billion in damage, but authorities say the damage is far greater than initial estimates.

This forced Pakistan and the United Nations to urge the international community to send more aid.

In response, United Nations agencies and various countries, including the United States, sent more than 60 planes loaded with aid. Since last week, Washington has sent three military planes to deliver food.

Three more US military planes carrying aid landed Monday in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, which was hardest hit by the floods, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. So far, ten such flights have arrived in the region.

A few days ago, Washington set up a humanitarian air bridge to flood-ravaged Pakistan to deliver aid via 20 flights, which will arrive in Pakistan by September 16. US authorities also plan to distribute cash to those in need.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a visit to Pakistan, visited flood-affected areas, where flood-induced downpours continue to wreak havoc.

António Guterres called on the world to stop “sleepwalking” over the dangerous environmental crisis. During a meeting with him, he assured Sharif that he would do his best to highlight the ordeal of the Pakistanis facing the floods.

Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told a news conference on Monday that Pakistani authorities and international aid agencies were assessing the damage from the floods that affected 33 million people. He said the government would carry out transparency in aid distribution.

Meanwhile, the IRC, a leading international aid group, warned on Monday of rising economic losses, likely leading to food shortages and increased violence against women. In a statement, the group said the floods destroyed more than 3.6 million acres of crops in Pakistan.

“The acute loss of agricultural land and agriculture is likely to be felt in the months and years to come. It is essential that the humanitarian response remains fully funded in order to give the people of Pakistan the best chance to rebuild their lives,” said Shabnam Baloch, Director of IRC in Pakistan.

She said that so far the IRC has helped 29,000 women and girls in flood-affected areas.

Deluges from the rising Indus and Lake Manchar in Sindh province still threatened Dadu, a southern district where rescuers using boats were evacuating villagers to safer locations on Monday. Light rain is expected in flood-affected areas this week, according to the Meteorological Department.

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