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Pakistan Floods Devastate Country; President Goes on Scheduled Visit to Europe

I hate to break away from the important Aqua Buddha news, but the largest natural disaster in the recent human history is happening, directly impacting 13 million people. And for an added bonus, it’s occurring in one of the world’s most dangerous trouble spots.

The flooding just keeps getting worse and worse. On Saturday, the UN estimated that 4 million people were affected by the flooding in Pakistan. By Sunday they revised that estimate to 6 million people. Today, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that over 13 million people are affected […]

Beyond the human toll, this flooding has hit Pakistan’s breadbasket. The agriculture sector, in particular rice and cotton, is being devastated. As al Jazeera reports, this is threatening to cause a looming food crisis.

The floods have in particular compromised the rule of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who during this terrible tragedy has decided to leave on a planned trip to Europe, provoking mass protests. Zardari, the former husband of the slain Benazir Bhutto, was already seen unfavorably by much of the Pakistani public. And the power vacuum if he actually loses power over this could be filled by literally anyone.

Long dogged by corruption allegations, Zardari had already been struggling with the perception that he is out of touch. With Pakistan’s aggressive new private television channels airing split-screen shots of Zardari’s European travels on one side and Pakistani villages being swept away on the other, that view has solidified.

The president’s trip has also come to symbolize a government response to the floods that victims say has been disorganized and slow off the mark. Zardari’s critics have compared his behavior since the floods began to President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.

“It was disgusting to see Zardari going on a joy ride when people here expected the president to stand with the nation at its hour of grief,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a lawmaker from the country’s main opposition party, which is led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. “That is what people expect at a minimum from their leaders.”

It may be catchy to call this “Zardari’s Katrina,” and the parallels are there, all the way down to someone throwing a shoe at Zardari during a speech in Birmingham, England. This story from an English-language paper in Pakistan lays out the political implications. But this terrible event has a magnitude all its own. In particular, the hit to Pakistan’s agriculture sector could lead the floods to have widespread and long-lasting consequences.

Between these floods and the heat wave and fires in Russia, you’d almost think there was a problem with the Earth’s climate…

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David Dayen

David Dayen