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Pakistan recovery far off

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has warned his beleaguered nation could take years to recover from devastating floods as global pledges topped 700 million dollars and waters refused to relent.

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The near month-long floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country’s worst ever natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever present in the camps sheltering desperate survivors.

“Your guess is as good as mine, but three years is a minimum,” Zardari told reporters on Monday when asked how long it would take Pakistan to go through relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation after the floods.

“I don’t think Pakistan will ever fully recover but we will move on,” the president said, adding the government — under fire for its slow relief response — was working to protect people from similar disasters in future.

Senior US official Dan Feldman, the deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters in Washington that a UN General Assembly meeting last week was “a real galvanising moment” in the aid effort.

“By our count, we’ve seen over $US700 million ($A787) pledged, including our own $US150 million ($A169 million), from over 30 countries,” Feldman said, without giving a country-by-country breakdown.

He said there are an “additional $US300 million ($A337 million) in as yet undefined commitments” from a variety of countries.

The United States has made nuclear-armed Pakistan a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremism with fears militancy could benefit from the instability after the flooding and fury at the government.

Zardari was strongly criticised for failing to cut short a visit to Europe at the start of the disaster and while he defended that decision, he acknowledged that some criticism of the government’s response was justified.

“There will always be a ‘could have been better, would have been better, should have been better’… (but) you have to understand how enormous the issue (the scale of the disaster) is,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas in the south since Saturday, including most of the 100,000 residents in the city of Shahdadkot, which authorities were battling to protect.

Dozens of villages around Shahdadkot were inundated, district administration official Yasin Shar told AFP on Monday, as floodwaters threatened the city.

Nearly 90 per cent of people living in the area had left and the remaining were being rushed out, he said.

Similar efforts were being made to save Hyderabad, a city of 2.5 million people on the lower reaches of the Indus river, where at least 36 surrounding villages have been swept away.

Pakistani officials on Monday began talks with the International Monetary Fund in Washington amid reports Islamabad was asking the fund to ease the terms of a loan worth nearly $US11 billion ($A12.37 billion).

Last week Pakistani officials said Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh would ask the IMF to restructure the current loan or consider new financing.

There are fears that losses as a result of the floods could reach $US43 billion ($A48.36 billion).

Millions of survivors are in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water and require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

Disaster management officials say that the scale of the flooding is much larger than Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake, which killed 73,000 people and made 3.3 million homeless.

Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Islamabad, told AFP that 1.5 million people were being treated for everything from respiratory and skin infections to diarrhoea.

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