Pakistan: Efforts step up to help flood victims

Pakistan: Stepping up efforts to help flood victims

MISE À DAY

SUKKUR | Efforts are ramping up on Tuesday to help tens of millions of Pakistanis affected by relentless monsoon rains since June that have submerged a third of the country and killed more than 1,100 people.  

More than $10 billion will be needed to repair the damage and rebuild infrastructure damaged by the floods, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal told AFP on Tuesday.< /p>

“Massive damage was caused to infrastructure, particularly in the telecommunications, roads, agriculture and livelihood sectors,” he pointed out.

These rains, “ unprecedented for 30 years,” according to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, have destroyed or seriously damaged more than a million homes and devastated large swaths of agricultural land essential to the country’s economy.

Authorities and humanitarian organizations are finding it difficult to speed up aid to the more than 33 million people, or one in seven Pakistanis, affected by the floods.

The task is difficult, because the waves washed away a number of roads and bridges, completely isolating certain regions.

In the south and west, there are hardly any dry places left and the displaced people have to pile up on large high-rise roads or railways to escape flood plains.

And in the northern mountainous areas, authorities are still trying to reach isolated villages, potentially raising the death toll to 1,136 since the start of the monsoon in June.

Victims roam like spectra along the rare dry areas to seek shelter, food and drinking water.

“For the love of God, help us,” pleaded Qadir, 35, who is now camping with his family near Sukkur (south), after walking for three days to get there. “There is nothing left in our house, we just managed to save our lives.”

“A big ocean”

Pakistani officials attribute these devastating weather to climate change, saying their country is suffering the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.

“To see the devastation on the ground is truly mind-boggling,” Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman told AFP on Monday, referring to a “crisis of unimaginable proportions.”

“Literally a third of Pakistan is under water right now,” more than during the 2010 floods when 2,000 people were killed and nearly a fifth of the country was submerged by monsoon rains, she said.

“Everything is just one big ocean, there is no dry place to pump water from. It has become a crisis of unimaginable proportions,” she added.

The province of Sind (south) is an endless horizon of water and the country's main river, the Indus, fed by countless streams from the north, threatens to burst its banks.

Pakistan received twice as much rainfall as usual, according to the meteorological service. In the southern provinces (Baluchistan and Sind), the most affected, the rains were more than four times higher than the average of the last thirty years.

Makeshift camps < /p>

These floods come at the worst time for Pakistan, which had already requested international aid to help its economy in crisis. The government has declared a state of emergency and called on the international community to support it.

It launched an urgent appeal with the United Nations on Tuesday for donations of 160 million dollars to finance a plan to emergency for the next six months, initially intended to provide basic services (health, food, drinking water and shelter) to the 5.2 million most affected people.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday gave its agreement to the resumption of a long-negotiated and essential financial support program for the country, and announced the release of an envelope of 1.1 billion dollars.

Prices of staple foods are skyrocketing – that of tomatoes and onions rose by 40% in a week – and supply problems are already being felt in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab.

Makeshift camps have sprung up everywhere – in schools, on highways, on military bases, among others – to house the displaced.

In Nowshera, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (north-west), a college has been transformed into a shelter for some 2,500 people, who are struggling to find food and water.

“I never thought I would have a day to live like this,” said Malang Jan, 60, whose house was submerged in water. “We lost our paradise and now we are forced to live a life of misery.”