Thousands flee as Pakistan floods spread
Mehmood Kot, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 5, 2010
Thousands fled devastating floods in Pakistan on Thursday, wading through water or crammed into cars as officials warned that heavy rains threatened entire villages and that dams could burst.
The United Nations rushed a top envoy to Pakistan to mobilise international support and address the urgent plight of 3.2 million people and up to 1,500 people killed by torrential monsoon rains across the volatile country.
The humanitarian disaster is now into a second week and relief workers are scrambling to help survivors who saw their villages and farmland washed away as rains spread into Pakistan's most populous provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
"We have another weather warning system coming in Sindh province, which could create further increases in flooding," UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja told AFP, saying the world body had received 18 million dollars.
"We are in the process of preparing a broad flood emergency plan, which will be released early next week."
Heavy rain lashed the Punjab town Kot Addu, where the area was transformed into a giant lake. Army helicopters flew overhead as people streamed out of flooded villages searching for safer ground, an AFP reporter said.
"All these villages are dangerous now. We are evacuating the population," said Manzoor Sarwar, police chief for Muzaffargarh district.
"Important installations are in danger. We have taken all possible steps to save people's lives and important installations," he said.
But victims lashed out at authorities for failing to come to their rescue and provide better relief, piling pressure on a cash-strapped administration straining to contain Taliban violence and economic crisis.
"Everybody is leaving. We came out empty-handed. We didn't have enough time to take our belongings," Ghulam Mustafa, 26 told AFP in Mehmood Kot, a village about six hours' drive south of Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
Houses, shops, petrol pumps and small villages were submerged. Villagers waded barefoot through water up to their necks and chests, carrying belongings on their heads to reach safer places, an AFP reporter said.
"There's up to six feet of water in the city. All our stuff was destroyed. We saved only our children," Sadaqat Ali, 28, a plumber from Kot Addu told AFP.
His 12-member family carried bags on their heads -- exhaustion and unhappiness etched on their faces. The children were barefoot.
"We weren't warned the flood would hit our villages," Allah Diwaya told AFP while manning a tea stall in Kot Addu.
"We weren't expecting it. It was a sudden wave. Everything has been destroyed. Now we're homeless," he said.
Suhail Tipu, a senior administration official in the area, told AFP that one of the flooded canals had been breached in two places to protect the Kot Addu power station, one of the country's biggest.
UN special envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert was on Thursday visiting affected areas in the northwest, where officials say there has been a lull in rainfall and water levels are receding.
The UN World Food Programme says 80 percent of food reserves have been destroyed in the flooding and Pakistan's meteorological department has issued new warnings, raising fears that the destruction is not over.
In Sindh, authorities warned that major floods were expected on Saturday and Sunday in the fertile agricultural area of Katcha along the Indus river, saying 5,000 people had already been evacuated.
"We have prepared a plan to evacuate some 500,000 people," provincial disaster management authority chief Sualeh Farooqi told AFP.
The number of affected districts in Punjab rose to seven and alert warnings were issued in five districts of Sindh to the south, the United Nations said.
"Water levels in Sindh are very high and there is a risk that if these levels continue to rise, it could pose serious threat to Sukkur Barrage," said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Although Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said about 100,000 people have been rescued and "relief items in sufficient quantity" provided, many say they have received no assistance from the government, only from local families.
Particular scorn has been reserved for President Asif Ali Zardari, who is deeply unpopular, for pressing ahead with visits to Paris and London at the height of the disaster, staying in a five-star hotel while his people suffer.
An international relief campaign has included a promise of a 10-million-dollar aid package from the United States.
The British government pledged eight million dollars in aid, while Australia pledged 4.4 million dollars and China 1.5 million. Other countries including Indonesia, South Korea and Canada have also promised help.
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Islamabad (AFP) Aug 5, 2010
The United Nations rushed a top envoy to Pakistan on Thursday to address the urgent plight of 3.2 million people hit by the worst floods in generations as officials warned the crisis was spreading. As the humanitarian disaster pushed into a second week, fears are growing of a food crisis among survivors who saw their villages and farmland washed away, killing more than 1,500 people in northw ... read more
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