Pakistan on red alert for fresh floods

August 7, 2010 12:00 am

, DURRANI MEHAR, Aug 7 – Pakistan was on red alert on Saturday as fresh floods threatened hundreds of communities in its farming heartland, with 12 million people already affected by the catastrophe.

Authorities were busy evacuating the densely populated southern province of Sindh, warning that a major deluge in the fertile basin along the swollen Indus river was expected to exacerbate the worst floods in the country\’s history.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appealed for immediate international help to cope with the disaster as authorities evacuated half a million people from risk areas in the south.

"I would ask international community to support and help Pakistan alleviate sufferings of flood-affected people," Gilani said in a televised address to the nation.

"Pakistan has been hit by worst floods of its history," he said.

The nearly two-week-old disaster across the largely impoverished country – hard hit by Taliban-linked violence – has washed away entire villages and killed at least 1,600 people, according to UN estimates.

Bedraggled women, children and elderly men in shabby clothes were deposited on the banks of the Indus by rescue boats criss-crossing a giant lake dotted by tree tops in the village of Durrani Mehar in northern Sindh.

The meteorological office issued a red alert overnight, warning of an "imminent" and "extreme" flood threat to Sindh, especially along the Indus, as flooding spread to Indian-held Kashmir, where more than 110 people have now died.

Torrential rains were also forecast in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the disaster management authority warned people who have returned to partially damaged homes or those living along rivers to be careful.

Head of the flood relief operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Major General Ghayoor Mehmood, told reporters in Peshawar that the floods killed some 1,400 people in the province, with 213 still missing.

"The scale of the needs is absolutely daunting," said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 252,000 homes are thought to have been damaged or destroyed across Pakistan, and 1.38 million acres (558,000 hectares) of crop land flooded, and it could take weeks before electricity is fully restored.

"Our cattle died and the cotton crop destroyed," said Mohammad Bakhsh, 50, a resident of Qasim Ghot village.

"I\’ve got calls on my mobile saying 20 to 25 children from our family are stranded in the village and are holding on to tree branches.

"We are begging the authorities to rescue them. Two of my children have drowned and we don\’t know where they are," Bakhsh said.

The flooding has threatened electricity generation plants, forcing units to shut down in a country already suffering a crippling energy crisis.

Survivors have 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 an economic crisis.

Particular scorn has been heaped on the unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari for pressing ahead with a visit to Europe at the height of the disaster.

The United States has pledged a total of $35 million in aid, with military helicopter relief missions travelling into the worst-hit regions.


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