As Pakistan’s worst floods in decades move south, 19 of Sindh Province’s 23 districts have been put on high alert.
Kashmore, Ghotki, Shikarpur, Sukkur, Larkana and Khairpur districts are considered high priority, and operations to evacuate vulnerable populations in low-lying areas are under way, according to Khair Muhammad Kalwar, director of operations at Sindh’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).
“Unlike Cyclone Phet, when there was a lot of uncertainty about the landfall areas, we are sure this time about the path of the flood. A population of one million people will be affected as some 2,000 villages are at the risk of being submerged. At the moment, our focus is on the [River Indus] deltaic area, which will be most affected by the floods,” Kalwar told IRIN.
According to the PDMA, 417 relief camps have been set up near areas where floods are expected, while 5,030 people have already been moved into camps; many families have moved in with relatives in other districts.
In Kashmore District 15 villages have been inundated and 10,000 people evacuated. Ongoing evacuations there are being carried out by 20 private and six government boats. But getting people to move is proving difficult.
“People living in Kaacha areas should move out of the path of flood. However, it is proving very hard for us to convince them to move. So far some 30 percent of the population from these areas has willingly shifted to safety. We have given a 100 percent evacuation order,” he said, adding that the police, rangers and army were assisting.
Kalwar said there were a large number of outlaws living in the Kaacha area whose families feared being arrested if they relocated.
“Another issue is that of the tribal feuds in many districts. The tribes have been fighting for generations and even at this time of difficulty, they refuse to listen to the administration and insist they will not share camps or shelters with those tribes they do not get along with,” Kalwar said. “We do have apprehensions in this regard as one never knows when the situation could turn volatile, but we are going to have to move them forcibly if they do not leave the area.”
Along with the government and army, various aid agencies and NGOs are doing what they can to address the needs of the flood-affected population in difficult conditions.
“While we are ready for the task of relief and rehabilitation, at the moment our prime focus is to get the people out of the vulnerable areas and move them to safety,” Z.A. Shah, disaster management manager for the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), told IRIN.
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“Most people have expressed fear that if they leave, their belongings would be taken away and they will end up losing whatever they have. They insist on staying back, saying that they have been through earlier floods as well. What they do not realize is that this flood is nothing like the past ones. It’s massive and has already left behind a large scale of death and destruction,” Shah said.
PRCS’s biggest concern was the outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases. PRCS centres in Khairpur, Larkana and Kambar-Shahdadkot districts were on standby and were each stocked with enough medicine for 200 families, in addition to having snake antivenom and water filtration plants to supply clean water to local residents, he said.
Aid agencies say more than 1,500 people have died in the floods so far, most in the northwestern province of Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa, and up to three million people countrywide have been affected.