Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday sought to fend off a public outcry over his response to Pakistan’s catastrophic floods by visiting a hard-hit area for the first time and handing out relief.
Zardari came under fire from victims,the political opposition and critics for last week failing to cut short a visit to Europe in order to deal personally with what is now the country’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The president visited Sukkur,where the government said on Thursday that waters were receding. He was briefed about the damage and relief and rehabilitation efforts in the densely populated southern province of Sindh.
Pakistan’s state television PTV broadcast silent footage of Zardari,who comes from Sindh,wearing a traditional cap and patting the head of an elderly woman at a relief camp,before visiting Sukkur barrage and viewing the water.
A local official told AFP the president distributed relief goods among flood victims at a camp in a college,assuring survivors that the government was doing the maximum possible to assist them.
Pakistan says 14 million people face direct or indirect harm from the floods. The United Nations believes 1,600 people have died,while Islamabad has confirmed 1,343 deaths.
The government has admitted to being overwhelmed,and hardline Islamic charities have conducted a highly visible aid effort on the ground.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal yesterday,Zardari defended his decision not to cut short his overseas tour,
saying he had used his talks in London and Paris to drum up desperately needed foreign aid for the tragedy.
The popular main opposition party,Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,criticised his visit to Sindh as too little too late: “He is president of Pakistan and he should behave like a president,” said spokesman Siddiqul Farooq.
Analysts warned his image will only improve if the government can bring the flood crisis under control and rapidly improve the relief operation.