WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes its rapid, generous response to Pakistan’s epic floods will help overcome the negative image many Pakistanis have of the United States, the Obama administration’s aid chief said on Friday.
Washington has sent rescue helicopters, delivered medicines and more than half a million halal meals and water as Pakistan’s fragile government struggles with the worst floods in 80 years, which have killed more than 1,600 people.
“As the Pakistani people see the tremendous efforts that America is making to provide them with support ... they will appreciate the commitment that we have there (in Pakistan),” Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told Reuters in an interview.
The United States is viewed with suspicion by most Pakistanis, despite a commitment to spend $1.5 billion a year over the next five years on nonmilitary aid.
Asked whether he thought the U.S. response to the floods could change that negative image, Shah replied: “I hope so, of course.”
The latest Pew poll shows only 17 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States and even fewer — eight percent — see President Barack Obama positively.
The United States has given $35 million in flood relief so far and Shah said more funds would be added, with fears the situation will deteriorate as more rains come.
“This could get a lot worse,” he warned.
A big focus in coming days will be to prevent communicable diseases such as cholera while also making sure as many people as possible are rescued.
Ensuring adequate food supplies is also a priority, with widespread destruction of crops and livestock in many areas.
“We are tracking that very closely,” he said, adding that on the plus side Pakistan has a wheat surplus this year.
U.S. officials are looking at whether some funds already committed for various projects will be reallocated to deal with the immediate crisis created by the floods, which have affected 12 million people in two provinces.
One senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, said there was some frustration over Pakistan’s slow pace of delivering a detailed list of needs and priorities.
But Shah said there was always a lack of clarity in the early days of a disaster. “We call it the fog of relief,” he said. “In a disaster, every day is about doing it better and being more effective and getting better data.”
The United States is working with the United Nations and other allies of Pakistan to assess needs and how much aid will be required over the short and long term.
There is also talk of an international donors meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next month, but it could be sooner.
Eyebrows have been raised by the decision of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to continue with a trip to Europe this week while the floods ravaged his country.
Shah declined to comment on Zardari’s decision or whether the Obama administration had pressed him to return home. “I probably should not get into that,” said Shah, who was in Pakistan last month.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)
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