|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Pakistan on Flood Relief Effort
Pakistan’s Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon appeared with Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon to appeal for world solidarity in response to floods that had devastated millions of Pakistani lives.
“We have to get the conscience of the world working on this jointly,” Mr. Gandhi, a Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois, United States, told correspondents.
Calling for more widespread, generous and long-term assistance to the “hundreds of thousands of Pakistani men, women and children who had lost all they had built over a lifetime”, he said that the poorest were once more the prime sufferers, adding that he prayed that the flood would help all of South Asia to reorder its priorities to extract some good out of the tragedy, including the end to the divisions between people in the region.
He noted that ordinary Pakistanis were helping each other, with young people displaying astonishing leadership, including Pakistani student groups abroad. That should be seen as a proof of the strength of Pakistani society, despite the country’s image in the world media. He was glad that Indians, both individuals and the Government, had provided aid.
Mr. Haroon said that the joint press conference was historic and spoke of the friendship between his own grandfather and Mahatma Gandhi, who, he said, was extremely concerned over the welfare of Muslims on the subcontinent. He welcomed the outpouring of aid from people of all faiths and ethnicities.
He said, however, that United Nations support showed sign of weakening, and he called for the world to step up to the enormous humanitarian challenges, warning of disasters yet to come, pointing out that 90 per cent of victims were still drinking dirty water.
He voiced hoped, for that reason, that the world would not lose interest. There were severe, long-term needs and 18 million out of the 20 million people affected were being supported by Pakistanis themselves. In addition, he said that Pakistan was a granary of the world, so there would be severe food shortages beyond Pakistan, if the world did not act now.
In response to questions, he said that there was a risk of destabilization in Pakistan, and that yesterday’s strikes against religious minorities had shown that militants were certainly willing to take advantage of opportunities. The people who had been most affected, however, were not militants. The people most affected were the “uncomplaining hard core” of Pakistani society.
Mr. Gandhi said that the disaster could increase unrest, but so far he had noticed a strong reaction against the latest violence, with people asking how anyone could carry out attacks in the middle of such an emergency. There was also the possibility that people would come together, across ethnic, religious and class lines. Within Pakistan, the elites had to decide where they stood. If the response was unsatisfactory, however, deeper divides could be created.
Asked about the possible positive effects of Indian aid, he said that such aid could lead to more rapprochement with Pakistan, or could be forgotten as a stand-alone goodwill gesture. It was “up to all of us” to take a profoundly human moment and help reshape the relationship between both peoples. An awakening of common humanity was indeed possible and could produce some reconciliation between peoples, he added, saying, however, he could not predict how it would affect the controversy over Kashmir and other big issues.
Asked if he was satisfied with the response of the United Nations to the floods, Mr. Haroon said there was a “strong burst of activity” before and after the Secretary-General’s visit, but the momentum had flagged a bit, even though, “the worst is yet to happen”, due to filthy water and food, a lack of some 900,000 tents and other shortages. There were still only 15 helicopters available to cover the affected area. In that context, he said that assistance from the Chinese military was not a threat; they had, after all, built highways in Pakistan.
He said that the Secretary-General had raised an initial, substantial amount and the world was helping, but domestic assistance capacity had been exhausted. India had a great role to play there, provided more people like Mr. Gandhi came forward.
Mr. Gandhi thanked all Indians who had helped thus far, but said the Indian heart could do so much more. Everyone in the world must feel accountable for what they did, or did not do to help the victims, he said.
Mr. Haroon said he was sceptical of calls for cash aid, instead of food aid, because he knew first hand of the extreme hunger in the affected area. In addition, he pointed out that many victims did not even have means to cook or store food, so the best solution right now was United Nations energy biscuits. Lentils and grains would be more important in the secondary response.
As far as the causes of the flooding were concerned, he said that there were unprecedented, “incredible” amounts of rain. There previously had been long-term droughts.
Asked if he stood behind claims about damaged levees that he had made in a television interview, Mr Haroon said yes, he had been told that some powerful people had destroyed levees, so that the flooding would inundate poorer people’s lands instead of their own. He reiterated his call for inquiries into such incidents.
On the meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan on 19September, Mr. Haroon said that the agenda would be broad and link to other concerns being discussed during the opening of the General Assembly session, particularly the achievement of the Millennium Goals.
* *** *For information media • not an official record