Remarks on Flooding in Pakistan
Secretary of State
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Good afternoon, Secretary General Ban, President Treki. I listened with great interest and concern as Foreign Minister Qureshi detailed with somber eloquence and painful specificity what the people and Government of Pakistan are facing today.
We are here at the request of the Government of Pakistan to help them respond to the worst natural disaster in their history. As Foreign Minister Qureshi pointed out, the flooding which has affected more than 20 million Pakistanis, more than the population of New York State is so enormous that it is almost hard to fathom and the rain continues to fall. So the extent of the devastation is difficult to gauge. This flooding has already affected more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined. And as we meet, we fear that a new wave of water may be about to sweep through areas that have already been devastated and reach to those yet untouched.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones, who have been displaced from their homes, left without food and water. The United States has and continues to take swift action to help. And on behalf of President Obama and the American people, I want to state our resolve to help Pakistan meet the immediacy of this crisis and then to recover from it. I want the people of Pakistan to know that the United States will stand with you during this crisis. We will be with you as rivers rise and fall. We will be with you as you replant your fields and repair your roads. We will be with you as you meet the long-term challenges to build a stronger nation and a better future.
Under the direction of the Government of Pakistan and the National Disaster Management Authority, the United States has been working since the earliest days of the flooding to provide assistance to those it can reach and who need it most. Our civilian helicopters began assisting in relief efforts almost immediately. American military helicopters were redirected to rescue Pakistanis within hours of the Pakistani Government’s request for help. Less than a day later, American military aircraft began delivering 400,000 halal meals from storehouses in Dubai. These efforts continue. And to date, U.S. aircraft have carried more than 6,000 Pakistanis to safety and distributed more than a million pounds of relief supplies.
We’ve also provided enough heavy-duty waterproof sheeting to construct temporary shelters for more than 100,000 people. And we have supplied the Pakistani Government with rescue boats, concrete cutting saws, water filtration units, and a dozen prefabricated bridges.
The initial response by the Pakistani Government and people, the United States, and the international community has helped to alleviate suffering and save lives. But the combined efforts so far pale against the magnitude of the challenge.
It is difficult to overstate the scope of this catastrophe and unfortunately we believe it is likely to get worse before it gets better. More than 800,000 homes have already been damaged or destroyed. Two million people have been forced to flee. Hundreds of bridges have been washed away, cutting off communities from relief supplies. As the foreign minister said, so much of this year’s agricultural production has been wiped out, and farmers’ submerged fields cannot be re-planted this season. And many communities face shortages of clean drinking water and are vulnerable to cholera and other epidemics.
Experts predict that the flooding will not recede until mid-September. And if the monsoon rains continue, the devastation will spread to new areas, driving yet more people from their homes.
So we know we face a humanitarian disaster of monumental proportions, and it is creating economic and security problems. And here at the United Nations, we often speak of a desire to forge a more humane fellowship with humankind. And today, we must match that aspiration with action.
Now, I realize that many countries, including my own, are facing tough economic conditions and very tight budgets. And we’ve also endured an unrelenting stream of disasters this year – from the earthquake in Haiti to the wildfires in Russia. But we must answer the Pakistani request for help.
On August 11th, the United Nations issued a $459 million emergency flood response plan and asked for the international community to respond. At the outset of this conference today, existing pledges of assistance put us halfway toward this goal. That is a solid start, but we must close the gap.
With a new pledge that I am making today of $60 million, the United States will be contributing more than 150 million toward emergency flood relief. Approximately 92 million of that total is in direct support of the UN relief plan. These funds are being used to provide critical supplies and support operations of the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority and other organizations inside Pakistan. The United States is providing technical assistance and mobilizing military and civilian resources as well.
Today, I want to call on the American public and American corporations to support these relief efforts. Every dollar makes a difference, and Americans can send help to Pakistan by contributing to the Department of State’s Pakistan Relief Fund. Please go to www.state.gov/pakistanrelief or make a $10 contribution through your mobile phone by texting the word “FLOOD” to the number 27722.
Beyond our immediate response, the United States is committed to the long-term goal of working with Pakistan to improve conditions in the country. We demonstrated that commitment with the multi-year, $7.5 billion non-military assistance package authorized by the Congress and agreed to by the President. We will now take some of those funds that were directed to initiatives that I announced just last month in Islamabad to support Pakistan in its reconstruction efforts.
In all of our work, we are seeking to strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions. Our approach to relief and rebuilding will be based on the same foundation of partnership that we believe is important between our country and Pakistan. It will be up to Pakistan’s elected leaders to head up this effort. And those elected officials, in turn, will be accountable to the citizens of Pakistan.
In my visits to Pakistan since becoming Secretary of State, I have spoken often about our desire to build an enduring partnership. And today, we are once again, reaffirming that commitment. I believe Pakistan will come through this crisis because of the strength, resilience, and courage of the people. As we meet today during the holy month of Ramadan, we must all embrace a spirit of compassion and make it our mission to provide that relief.
A few days ago, an American helicopter rescued a pregnant woman who was about to give birth. They were able to carry her to safety. Her home was under water. She was facing complications that could have claimed her life and the life of her child. Like all Pakistanis affected by the floods, this mother and baby still face many difficulties in the months and years ahead, but they will have an opportunity to rebuild their community and to contribute to a strong, secure, prosperous Pakistan. I believe in that baby’s future.
Civilization has thrived on the banks of the Indus River for more than 5,000 years. It will continue. And if we come together now, we can meet this challenge and ensure that future generations in Pakistan will have the opportunity to realize their own God-given potential.
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Information on the U.S. Department of State’s Pakistan Relief Fund is available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/08/146108.htm