Floods show no sign of let up

For the past 10 days, torrential monsoon rainfall has killed more than 1,600 people inflicted widesperad damage across the country, with the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) suffering the greatest losses, federal authorities and aid agencies say.

Estimates vary over the number of people affected by the floods. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on 8 August four million had been affected, while some media reports suggest up to 14 million.

Unrelenting downpours continue to limit relief efforts and have grounded helicopters in KP, leaving thousands of people cut off in areas where roads and bridges have been swept away.

“Worse could lie ahead. More rains are expected and this could affect people in low-lying areas,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, KP information minister, told IRIN.

According to KP local authorities, Charsadda is the worst-affected district in KP.

“Around one million people are affected,” District Coordination Officer Kamranur Rehman Khan told the media on 8 August. He said half of these people were “very vulnerable”. 

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Those who made it out of Charsadda to provincial capital Peshawar on restored roads said there were severe shortages of potable water there, low food stocks and dead animals lying in stagnant water.

“It’s just impossible to live there. Government officials are helping only their own supporters. Our house has been virtually destroyed and the camps are dismal,” Umair Khan, from Umerzai, the worst-hit union council (administrative unit) in Charsadda, told IRIN.

“Most people are just occupying any high ground they can find and more and more are falling sick,” he said, adding that he planned to leave his wife and three children with relatives in Peshawar before returning to Umerzai to try and salvage their belongings and rebuild his house.

Sanitary conditions in the Nowshera and Charsadda districts of KP have been described by aid workers as “alarming”.

As bad as 2005 earthquake

Some have said that although the death toll is far lower; this disaster is as bad as Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake, which killed some 73,000 people.

“Tragically, we will see more deaths due to sickness. People are in a miserable state. In some places conditions are even worse than after the 2005 Kashmir quake, the aftermath of which I saw, and the lack of existing infrastructure to meet basic needs aggravates matters,” said a French aid worker in Nowshera who asked not to be named. He said there was a “desperate need” for more funds, more resources and more personnel to cope with the “human catastrophe”.

Maurizio Giuliano, Public Information Officer OCHA in Pakistan, said funds were coming in “but more will be required”.

“This is a very major disaster, on the same scale as the earthquake of 2005. Immediately, there is a need for shelter. The number of plastic sheets and other supplies are simply not enough. In the longer run people will need support for quite some months,” he told IRIN from Islamabad.

Photo: OCHA
A map of Pakistan showing the flood impact as of 5 August (See larger version of map)

Punjab damage

In a 7 August press release, OCHA said 1.6 million people had been affected in the eastern province of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province with more than half its 160 million population living there. It is also the country’s bread basket.

“An estimated 84,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving up to 500,000 people homeless in the province,” OCHA said, adding that at least 1.4 million acres of agricultural land had been destroyed in Punjab, threatening the food security of millions

More evacuations continue from the province, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

“We have seen land vanish before our eyes. Vegetables we grew for our family have been destroyed. I have lost hens and sheep too. Things are desperate,” Aziz Muhammad, a farmer from Muzaffargarh district in southern Punjab, told IRIN over the phone.

Sindh alert

Flooding has reached the southern province of Sindh after residents there had been on high alert for days. Local authorities say Sukkur is the worst-affected district.

Amid evidence of rising panic in the face of floods described by NDMA Chairman Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed as the “worst ever” in the country’s history, Sindh irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo admitted a dyke near the town of Ghouspur had been deliberately breached “to release pressure from other dykes”. He conceded that this led to the inundation of several more villages, but said “otherwise the towns of Ghouspur and Karampur were under threat”.

The Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority said it had evacuated at least 150,000 people, but said many were refusing to budge. Others are reported to be leaving homes near rivers, with large areas in Sukkur and other parts of Upper Sindh inundated.

“The situation is looking very bad. People basically have nowhere to go because the camps set up are limited,” said Latif Hussain, a volunteer for local NGO Edhi Foundation in the Sukkur area.