The United States has vowed to continue to partner with Pakistan to alleviate the damage from recent catastrophic floods and torrential rains that have claimed the lives of nearly 1,400 people, including 496 children, and affected millions of others.
“We are here at a very difficult moment for Pakistan. The floods have been just devastating in this country and it’s capturing the world’s attention,” said Derek Chollet, a senior State Department diplomat, after meetings with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad.
The U.S. diplomat said that he and his interagency delegation are visiting the country to express solidarity with its people and to show that “the United States has Pakistan’s back in this crisis.”
Chollet noted that Washington had already pledged more than $30 million in response to the destructive flooding, saying the U.S. will be making more aid announcements soon.
“We fully recognize that this is going to be a long-term challenge for Pakistan and the United States, as Pakistan’s partner, is here for the long term.”
Chollet added that the U.S. military also “plans to start to land in Pakistan” beginning Thursday, to deliver needed supplies for flood victims.
The U.S. Department of Defense later said in a statement it had begun airlifting “critical life-saving humanitarian supplies” to Pakistan from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s warehouse in Dubai. The U.S. military’s C17 Globemaster cargo aircraft will transport the supplies over the course of the coming days on approximately 20 different flights.
“We are working closely with USAID to support their critical mission to provide some measure of relief to the people of Pakistan,” said General Michael Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command.
The catastrophic flooding, blamed on climate change-driven, erratic monsoon rains, has made almost 700,000 people homeless, affected an estimated 33 million across the country of 220 million people, and drenched one-third of Pakistan since mid-June when the seasonal rainfall began.
On Wednesday, Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters in Karachi, the capital of the hardest-hit southern Sindh province, that it is totally inundated, and relief workers are struggling to find dry ground to place tents for displaced families.
“The water is standing everywhere. Outside of Karachi, if you go a little further up in Sindh, you will see just a veritable ocean of water, with no break,” she said.
The United Nations says the seasonal downpours “have broken a century-long record” and dumped more than five times the 30-year average for rainfall in some parts of the country.
Officials in Pakistan say their country contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions but is constantly listed among the top 10 climate-vulnerable countries. Islamabad has repeatedly urged the world in recent days to work feverishly toward tackling the climate change challenge.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on Friday to tour flood-hit areas and express his “deep solidarity” with Pakistanis. He told reporters he would appeal for the “massive support” of the international community to help the country deal with the emergency.
Guterres said climate change is “supercharging the destruction of our planet,” and the world needs to step up efforts to counter it. “Today it is Pakistan. Tomorrow it can be anywhere else. To deal with climate change, that is the defining issue of our time, with a business-as-usual approach is pure suicide.”
The U.N. has called for $160 million in international assistance to help the flood victims. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said more than 6.4 million flood victims need humanitarian support.
More than 50 international humanitarian relief flights have arrived in Pakistan as of Thursday from countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, China, France, Iran, Britain, Azerbaijan, Norway and Kazakhstan. The foreign ministry in Islamabad said more flights were on the way.
The WHO has warned that stagnant water can give rise to water-borne and vector-borne diseases in flood-affected districts, saying almost 10% of Pakistan’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, which is leading and coordinating the humanitarian response, in its latest situation report said that the raging floodwaters had washed away or damaged more than 1.7 million homes, 246 bridges and nearly 7,000 kilometers of roads, and swamped more than 809,370 hectares of farmland across the country.
Officials estimate the disaster has cost the country more than $10 billion in losses and that the reconstruction process could take years.