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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office, Thursday said that the government of Pakistan is in touch with countries in the broader neighbourhood other than India to facilitate the import of vegetables and other food items following the devastating floods that caused serious damage to the local production of the commodities.

Responding to media queries during his weekly briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar stated that currently there was no proposal under consideration to import the food items, including vegetables from India.

“We are in touch with countries in the broader neighbourhood to facilitate import of those commodities as early as possible. And as regards India, currently there is no such thing under consideration,” he said in response to a question about whether the government was also considering allowing the import of the commodities from India with which Pakistan cut off trade ties in the wake of August 5, 2019, illegal steps.

Right now, he added that the main focus is on the flood-hit areas, where vast lands have been inundated and there is an urgent requirement for food and shelter. “So, that remains the first responsibility of the federal and provincial governments,” he added. He said that the colossal scale of devastation across various parts of the country, brought about by the unprecedented climate catastrophe, has affected more than 33 million people.

“Continuing loss of lives and livelihoods, and massive damage to property and infrastructure, are indicative of this evolving humanitarian situation we are faced with,” he said, adding that after Sindh and Balochistan, the floods caused serious destruction in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, AJK, and Gilgit-Baltistan in recent days.

He added that over 1,100 people including over 350 children have lost their lives, more than 1,600 people have been injured, over a million houses have been partially or fully damaged or destroyed, entire villages have been wiped out, over 735,000 livestock have perished and over two million acres of crops have been lost, besides severe damage to communications infrastructure.

“The sheer scale of the calamity has; however, stretched our resources and capacities to the limit, thus necessitating support from the international community. And we have already seen an outpouring of that support and solidarity, with a large number of our friends and partners stepping forward with assistance to buttress the government-led relief efforts,” he added.

To a question, he said that one of the key requirements is about shelter and tents, and full effort has been mobilised in that regard. He said that around 200,000 tents have so far been distributed, but the demand is much higher.

He said that Pakistan has requested friends in the international community, and many of these assistance consignments that are coming in from China, Turkey, the UAE, and others, the shelter/ tents component is a significant part of it.

“So we are trying to address that. We have also mobilised tent manufacturing to its full capacity in Pakistan so that we can procure the tents locally as well,” he added.

He said that there are many international organisations, the UN agencies, and on non-governmental basis there are many humanitarian organisations which are mobilising support.

He added that the assistance that is being pledged or offered in various categories utilize different modes for disbursements, adding that some would be direct cash/ financial support including for the government; others could be through the flash appeal, and there could be announcements that will be utilized and disbursed through various UN agencies and other organisations.

“We continue to receive new pledges and commitments and all of this is being consolidated. We will be sharing the picture describing as to how much, and what kind of pledges - financial and in-kind assistance are there and how they are going to be utilized. But the important thing to note is that the response is very encouraging and we are receiving new commitments every day,” he added.

He said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be visiting Pakistan on 9-10 September which will be an important visit. Secretary General will be here to express solidarity and international community’s support for Pakistan at this difficult time, he added.

He said that the UN chief is expected to be here on 9th September early morning and he will have a busy schedule in Islamabad that day including calls-on and meetings with the leadership, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, besides other engagements. On the next day, he added that the UN chief will visit the flood-affected areas.

He said that the UN Secretary-General has had a long association and great respect for Pakistan in his previous role as the High Commissioner for Refugees. “So, he knows well the kind of generosity that Pakistan has shown over the decades, not only on refugees, but also a very constructive role in the international domain,” he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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