Pakistan accused of politicising flood efforts with ‘Benazirabad’ plan
The government of Pakistan has been accused of hijacking relief efforts for political ends after it unveiled plans to name new towns built for flood victims “Benazirabad”, after the country’s former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.
Rob Crilly in Islamabad
The proposal was discussed at a meeting of the Pakistan People’s Party chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the assassinated leader.
However, opposition politicians condemned the idea as an attempt to exploit reconstruction work to raise support for the governing party.
Siddiq ul-Farooq, a spokesman for the PML-N opposition party, said: “It’s a national catastrophe so an apolitical approach is needed. President Zardari should rise above political considerations and should not be using political personalities’ names for political gain.”
Eight million people are still in desperate need of help, more than a month after torrential monsoon rains swept away roads, bridges and a million homes.
Much of the southern province of Sindh remains under water.
However, relief efforts have been hit by a sluggish response from donors – amid fears that cash may be misused.
The military head of the country’s disaster response unit has reported receiving phone calls from prominent politicians demanding aid be delivered to their constituencies or asking for helicopters to rescue their relatives.
Yesterday, the UN warned that funding had “almost stalled” and contributions had raised less than two thirds of $460m needed to keep disease and hunger at bay.
For now, emergency relief remains the priority but the Pakistan government is planning to build 10 or more new towns across the country to help house families made homeless by the floods.
Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for President Zardari, said they would be built with a mixture of public and private cash, and that officials had approached the Asian Development Bank for a loan to help construction.
Each town would house up to 10,000 people.
However, he added that Benazirabad was only one of a number of possible names.
“The final decision has not yet been taken,” he said.