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Anger grows as Pakistan floods hit 3.2 million
Tue, Aug 03, 2010
AFP

MAJUKY FAQIRABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan faced the risk of a public health disaster Tuesday with up to 3.2 million people hit by the worst floods in generations as anger grew among survivors complaining they have been abandoned by the government.

Bedraggled survivors walked on foot, with luggage stacked on donkey carts or crammed into cars, trying to reach safer ground as heavy rains again lashed the northwest, exacerbating the misery of hundreds of thousands.

Families sleeping rough spent an anxious night, some worried about looters and firing intermittent bursts of gunfire to head off any possible trouble in the devastated village of Majuky Faqirabad, witnesses said.

Most of the homes in the village were destroyed. The rest lay in shambles with household belongings littered under the open skies. Villagers said 10 bodies had been recovered from the waters but that at least 100 people were still missing.

Aid workers, the government and the military say they are battling to reach affected communities, but anger grew among survivors over the enormity of their plight as President Asif Ali Zardari pressed on with a visit to Europe.

"Two young girls in my immediate neighbourhood drowned in the flood waters," said Sher Khan, 40.

"Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and UK."

"We have been cut off from the rest of the country for the last five days," said Muhammad Tariq, 37, a school teacher told AFP from Bahrain district.

"The army and local administration repeatedly assured us that they would airlift us to Peshawar but nothing of the sort has happened yet."

As concerns grew of a potential public health disaster, the death toll was expected to rise further on Tuesday.

The local government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkwa province has said up to 1,500 people died and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) put the figure at 1,400.

"Providing clean water and sanitation is an absolute priority if we are to avert a public health disaster," said Ateeb Siddiqui, director of operations with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.

Record rain last week triggered floods and landslides that obliterated entire villages and ruined farmland in one of the country's most impoverished and volatile regions, already hard his by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence.

The United Nations said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed to stop waterborne diseases spreading after Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told AFP that discussions were underway with the government to determine whether the crisis warranted a fresh appeal for donor aid.

"The international community is again ready to help Pakistan. They are waiting to see a concrete plan of action by the humanitarian agencies," he said, conceding that there had been some access problems.

"Houses, roads, livestock and fields have been overwhelmed," he said. "This is a serious humanitarian disaster."

A UNICEF official told AFP that around 3.2 million people had been affected by the flooding across the country - 1.3 million severely. The total included 1.4 million children under the age of 18, the official said.

The United Nations said around 980,000 people had lost their homes or been temporarily displaced, and that the figure was likely to rise above a million.

An assessment by the UN World Food Programme in four districts - Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan and Peshawar - found that around 80,000 homes had been destroyed and another 50,000 damaged.

In the city of Peshawar, more than 200 people including women and children queued up near a truck carrying flour, cooking oil and lentils. Other survivors lay their wet bedding out on the roadside, waiting for handouts.

School teacher Aurangzeb Khan said floods had reduced his community to mud.

"Don't give us biscuits and juice packs in aid, we need clean drinking water."

Pakistan's meteorological service has forecast rain of up to 200 millimetres (eight inches) in the next weeks across the northwest, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the central province of Punjab and Sindh in the south.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon pledged aid of up to 10 million dollars for those affected by the crisis, Britain pledged five million pounds (S$10.75 million) and South Korea 500,000 dollars worth of emergency relief supplies.

Helicopters sent by Washington have rescued more than 700 people from flood-hit areas, US officials said.

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