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    Fears grow of disease in flood-ridden Pakistan


    by ODN


    Parts of northwest Pakistan inundated by the worst floods in eighty years face life-threatening food shortages, creating another crisis for the politically fragile president and a government perceived as inept.

    President Asif Ali Zardari and his government have been hit by a barrage of criticism for their handling of the catastrophe which has so far killed at least 1,400 people. Zardari left for Europe earlier this week, at the height of the disaster.

    World Food Programme spokesman Amjad Jamal said the organisations' workers were urgently trying to reach flood areas in the northwest cut off from food supplies, which a UN aid agency said devastated the lives of over 3 million people.

    It's too early to gauge the economic costs of the flood but they are likely to be staggering. Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid and its civilian governments have a poor history of managing crises, leaving the powerful military to step in.

    "You can imagine for five or six days floods have caused havoc in these areas. People have lost their food stocks. The markets are not up and running. Shops have collapsed. People are definitely in the greatest need of food," Jamal said.

    The mainstay agriculture industry has been hit hard. Thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed in the Punjab agricultural heartland alone. Rice exports may be hurt while the country could see more spending on imports of cotton and sugar.

    The flood catastrophe, which started a week ago, is likely to deepen as more rains are expected. A breakout of water-borne diseases such as cholera would create a health crisis.