ISLAMABAD // The Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said today that 20 million people had been affected by the worst floods in the country's history as the United Nations confirmed the first cholera case. Independence Day celebrations were cancelled as floods continued to bring misery to millions and aid agencies warned of a "second wave" of deaths from disease. "The floods affected some 20 million people, destroyed standing crops and food storages worth billions of dollars, causing colossal loss to national economy," Mr Gilani said in a televised address to the nation.
"I would appeal to the world community to extend a helping hand to fight this calamity." The UN has appealed for $460 million (Dh1.689 billion) to deal with the immediate aftermath of the floods but charities say the figure falls far short of what is needed. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Pakistan later today to discuss the relief effort and visit flood-hit areas.
"This is the worst-ever calamity for us and the entire nation will have to show courage to face it," Mr Gilani said. "I am pretty confident that the nation will once again emerge victorious from this crisis. "Outbreak of epidemics in the flood-hit areas is a serious threat, which can further compound the already grave situation," Mr Gilani added, as UN authorities confirmed the first cholera case. "There has been at least one cholera confirmed case in Mingora," Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP, referring to the main town in the northwestern district of Swat. Charities said relief for those affected by the worst natural disaster in Pakistan's history was lagging far behind what was needed. "There are millions of people needing food, clean water and medical care and they need it right now," said Jacques de Maio, head of operations for South Asia at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "Clearly at this point in time the overall relief effort cannot keep pace with the overall scale of the emergency," he said. Humanitarian agencies in Pakistan were monitoring the risk of "a second wave of deaths induced by the floods in the shape of water-borne diseases," Mr de Maio said, adding that it was impossible to measure the full scale of a disaster.
Celebrations marking the anniversary Saturday of Pakistan's 1947 independence from British colonial rule have been scrapped by President Asif Ali Zardari, his spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, announced. The embattled leader has come under fire from flood victims and the opposition after pressing on with a trip to Europe last week, despite the mounting emergency.
In his independence day message, the president will call on people "to come out and help your grief-stricken brethren," Babar said. Zardari will also visit flood-affected areas in the northwest and the central province of Punjab.