The toll from Pakistan’s deadliest floods in decades exceeded 1,200 as government agencies struggled to reach survivors and President Asif Ali Zardari faced criticism for proceeding with a trip to Europe.
“We have recorded 1,227 dead so far and this will increase” to as high as 3,000, said Mujahid Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s independent Edhi rescue service in the northwest city of Peshawar. The floods have affected a million people overall, the United Nations says.
The worst of the flooding occurred in a 160-kilometer (100- mile) swath of mountain valleys and irrigated plains in northwest Pakistan where the government has been fighting the growing influence of the Taliban and allied militants for much of the past decade. A poor government response to natural disasters such as the 2005 earthquake has in the past given militant groups a chance to build popular support with their own relief efforts.
Pakistani troops used helicopters and boats to reach people trapped by floodwaters as local television networks showed survivors clinging to trees or debris in muddy, raging mountain rivers. Armed forces chief Ashraf Pervez Kayani yesterday visited flooded areas of the Swat Valley and his helicopter evacuated 17 residents, the army said on its website.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, a two-time prime minister, criticized Zardari for going ahead with a trip to France and the U.K. this week. His absence flies in the face of “the worst flooding in the country’s history,” Sharif said on the GEO television news channel.
“We can see people drowning but we can’t go into the water because of its high pressure,” said Khan, whose Edhi Foundation runs the nation’s largest ambulance service. “The relief efforts of everyone combined is only 5 percent of what’s required.”
Thousands of packaged meals from the U.S., the first part of $10 million in emergency aid promised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are being distributed, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement. The U.S. is rushing helicopters, boats, pre-fabricated bridges, mobile water treatment units and food supplies to affected areas, Clinton said in a statement yesterday.
Pakistan’s national weather service predicted a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms and rain over most of the country today. Floodwaters are moving downstream in the Indus River watershed, from the worst-hit province, Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, to Pakistan’s three other provinces -- Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.
The Sindh government has ordered residents along the banks of the Indus River to be evacuated.
The floods follow the deaths of 152 people when a plane crashed in heavy rain near the capital, Islamabad, on July 28.
Food distribution has begun in the worst affected districts of Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda, the World Food Program said yesterday on its website. Floodwaters “have also caused significant damage” to the U.N. agency’s warehouses in northwestern Pakistan, it said.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who toured the stricken province by air, ordered the government to provide food to people at safe locations.
U.K. charity Oxfam said the flood may be Pakistan’s worst for 35 years. “People in the flood’s wake were already desperately poor and what little possessions they had have been washed away,” said Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s humanitarian director. The charity said it was considering a “sizable aid package.”
Source : bloomberg