Nearly half the $460 million needed for initial relief in Pakistan's worst ever floods has been secured after days of lobbying donors and warnings that the country faces a spiraling humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
"There has been an improvement in funding. Donors are realizing the scale of the disaster," U.N. spokesman Maurizio Giuliano told Reuters. "But the challenges are absolutely massive and the floods are not over."
"The size of (the area affected by) this disaster is equivalent to Austria, Switzerland and Belgium combined. That's pretty scary."
The European Union, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it would provide an additional 30 million euros ($39 million) in emergency relief assistance to Pakistan, bringing its total aid to 70 million euros.
A few days ago, only a quarter of aid pledged had been received, prompting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a visit to Pakistan to urge foreign donors to speed up funding and avert more deaths.
So far, food rations and access to clean water have only been provided to around 700,000 flood survivors, the U.N said.
Flood-ravaged Pakistan, meanwhile, said it has received international aid of $300 million, but the flow of money remained slow, and survivors lashed out at Islamabad for failing to move faster to help.
Torrential monsoon rain triggered catastrophic floods which have affected 20 million people in three weeks, wiping out villages, farmland, infrastructure and killing at least 1,400 people in the nation's worst natural disaster.
The United Nations said Tuesday that funding so far was just 40 percent of the target and aid agencies are calling for pledges to be turned into cash.
Zamir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said the country had received more immediate multilateral relief aid through the U.N. and direct bilateral aid totaling about $301 million (235 million euros).
The World Bank also agreed Tuesday to give Islamabad a $900-million loan, warning that the disaster's impact on the economy was expected to be "huge" and likely to take years to put right.
A string of nations ranging from Afghanistan and Turkey to the United States and Saudi Arabia have pledged millions in cash and relief as the U.N. warned more money was needed to stave off a "second wave of death" from disease and food shortages.
But flood survivors crammed into sweltering tent cities or camping out along roadsides have hit out furiously against Pakistan's weak civilian government for not doing enough.
Britain, which is emerging from a diplomatic row with Pakistan, branded the aid effort "lamentable" and charities said Pakistan was suffering from an "image deficit" partly because of perceived links to terror.
The nuclear-armed country is on the frontline of the U.S.-led fight against al-Qaeda, where the military is locked in battle with Taliban in the northwest on the border with Afghanistan.
Zardari heavily criticized
Embattled President Asif Ali Zardari is due in Russia Wednesday for a regional security summit with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
He is expected to fly in to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for only a few hours after facing heavy criticism at home for failing to cut short a visit to Europe to tackle the crisis.
Zardari has told aid agencies it would take years to recover from what he called "the worst calamity of the world history."
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has also warned that the disaster could play into the hands of insurgents.
"We don't know what impact it's having on the insurgents... the idea that this flood would essentially come on top of a very corrosive insurgency is extremely worrisome," said U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it fears Pakistan is on the brink of a "second wave of death" unless more funds materialize, with up to 3.5 million children at risk from water-borne diseases.
Islamabad has confirmed around 1,400 deaths, but WHO representative Guido Sabatinelli said he suspected the toll was much higher.
"In any case it will be much higher but it's difficult to predict. We're talking about 20 million people affected today and there is no infrastructure and no health centers that can register the deaths," he told AFP.
Experts have urged the government to move quickly, warning that the massive economic losses could fan unemployment and social unrest.
Agriculture accounts for 20 percent of Pakistan's gross domestic product.
UNICEF estimates that over 5,500 schools and 1,300 health centers have been either damaged or destroyed and that nearly 5,000 schools are now housing displaced families.