ISLAMABAD: The worst floods in memory in Pakistan have devastated the lives of more than three million people so far, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday, and fury over the unpopular government’s response to the crisis is spreading.
The catastrophe, which started almost a week ago and has killed more than 1,400 people, is likely to deepen as more rains are expected and conditions are ripe for the outbreak of disease.
Pakistani authorities are struggling to help flood victims, many of whom have lost everything and say they had not received any warnings raging waters were heading their way.
Anger was palpable in towns such as Charsadda. A Reuters reporter saw people attacking trucks distributing relief items.
Police then charged at them with batons.
Bistma Bibi, 65, who lost two grandsons in the floods, accused state relief workers of only helping friends or relatives.
“I came here at 5 o’clock in the morning. I did my best. I begged and fought but got nothing. They’re giving them (supplies) to their people,” she said.
Unicef spokesman Abdul Sami Malik told Reuters of the more than three million affected, 1.3 million people were severely impacted by the floods in the northwest, losing homes and livelihoods. More than 1,400 have died, he said.
Religious charities, some with suspected ties to militants, have stepped in to provide aid, piling pressure on the government to show it can take control.
“Since the flood hit our area, I did not see any food or relief packets from the government. Their offices have been washed away or damaged,” said school teacher Yar Mohammad, waiting to cross a makeshift bridge over a river in Swat Valley.
Religious groups played a key role in the relief effort following a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir that killed 75,000 people.
Trying times for government
The government faces resilient militants, who often try to capitalise on a lack of civil services to recruit disillusioned Pakistanis to take up arms against the state.
Authorities forecast more of the heavy monsoon rains that have been lashing the area for the past week. Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said more than 29,500 houses were damaged and a key trade highway to China was blocked by flooding.
Waters have receded in some flooded areas. But Unicef’s Malik expressed concern that waters were spreading from the worst hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Pakistan’s Punjab heartland, the major food-producing province, as well as the Sindh region.
Several parts of southern Punjab have been hit by floods.
The army said that 20,000 people have been rescued there.
In the northwest, the bloated, infected carcasses of animals floated on the water, raising the spectre of diseases such as cholera. Food prices are also rising sharply as agriculture has been wiped out, adding to the people’s misery.
“Roads to some districts are no longer there. Coping mechanisms of people are lost because they don’t have any assets to sell to buy food,” said Mohammad Rafiq from Unicef.
Source: Dawn – 03.08.2010