ISLAMABAD // Rescue workers scrambled yesterday to save tens of thousands of people stranded by surging floodwaters, as the death toll from the rising waters passed 1,100 people and aid workers warned of the spread of water-borne diseases. Pakistani officials urged the international community and non-governmental organisations to join relief efforts, which could soon be complicated by yet more rain.
In the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE, ordered the urgent delivery of relief supplies to help displaced people in the flood-hit areas. This came as Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, yesterday met the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, who made a short visit to the UAE, en route to Europe.
As relief efforts stepped up, Pakistan's meteorological department predicted that another spell of monsoon rains would arrive tomorrow evening. That raised fears the rising water levels would compound the misery of the hundreds of thousands of people already displaced by the swelling waters. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a government spokesman for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said yesterday that 1.5 million Pakistanis have been affected by the monsoon rains, flash floods and landslides. He estimated the number of dead countrywide at more than 1,000 people.
The worst floods in 81 years have caused destruction on a massive scale. Roads, telecommunication networks and local infrastructure have been badly damaged. Whole villages have been washed away, animals have drowned and grain storages destroyed, the Associated Press quoted Latifur Rehman, a spokesman for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, as saying. While the north-western parts of the country have been hit hardest, several districts in the southern parts of Punjab province have also been badly affected. The floodwater is continuing its way further downstream, forcing authorities to take precautionary measures in southern Sindh province. Army troops have been deployed there to cope with potential floods, provincial officials said. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said yesterday that the government was taking "proper steps for providing relief to the people of flood affected areas". At least 43 military helicopters and more than 100 boats have been deployed to rescue some 27,300 people still trapped by the floods, Mr Rehman said. "All efforts are being used to rescue people stuck in inaccessible areas and all possible help is being provided to affected people", he added. Swat, the picturesque northern valley that has been the scene of a military operations against Islamist militants, has also been badly hit, with more than 14,600 houses and 22 schools, according to the Edhi Foundation, a Pakistani private charity. Anger among those who have lost their livelihoods and homes has risen as people accused the government of responding slowly and inadequately to the emergency. In Charsadda, a district of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, large swathes of land were had been transformed into islands, and stranded survivors lashed out at the government. "The flood has devastated us all, and I don't know where my family has gone,'' local media quoted Hakimullah Khan, a resident of Charsadda, as saying. Mr Khan complained that the government has not helped him search for his missing wife and three children. "Water is all around and there is no help in sight," Mr Khan said. A young man identified only as a resident of Jehangira, a small town in Swabi district, told GEO, a popular news network, that he had lost his house and all his belongings due to the flood. "President [Asif Ali] Zardari is going to England. He should take us with him", he said. Mr Zardari went ahead with his visit to Britain yesterday despite protests from the opposition. Shahbaz Sharif, a political opponent and the chief minister of Punjab province, had urged the president to cancel the trip and divert the traveling expenses to flood victims. Babar Awan, the law minister and a staunch supporter of Mr Zardari, said yesterday that Mr Sharif should instead sell his property and apartments in London and "contribute the money on the welfare of those affected in his province". Meanwhile, help from the outside world started trickling in. The US Embassy in Islamabad stated that a US Air Force C-130 H delivered 8,000 halal meals to Pakistani officials in Islamabad. A press release by the embassy said this was the first international assistance to arrive in the country. In the UAE, the Pakistani community was rallying together to provide medicines and money to the victims. The Pakistan consulate in Dubai has appealed to people to donate tents, blankets, cash, medical aid and clothes to assist the tens of thousands displaced by floods that have left more than 900 dead. "These people have nothing," said Amjad Ali Sher, Pakistan's consul general. "Their houses were washed away by the floods. They have been stripped of everything. I hope despite the recession that people will come forward with vigour, zeal, passion and spirit to donate whatever they can." There are 400,000 Pakistan expatriates in Dubai of the 1.2 million Pakistanis that live in the Emirates. The Pakistani community pitched in to help in October 2005 when a deadly earthquake rocked the region. An appeal from the speaker of the provisional assembly of Pakhtoonkwa, one of the worst affected regions, had been sent to welfare groups in the Emirates, Mr Sher said. A delegation of Pakistani expatriates will travel to the affected areas in a week to donate contributions that have been collected. The Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD) Oud Metha office will begin accepting donations today from 9am until 9 pm. PAD will also issue appeals for donation via radio, TV and newspapers over the next week. Relief efforts have started in some areas. The Pakistan Red Crescent Society has distributed food packets to 21,700 people and 50 tents in Baluchistan province with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The society has said it would provide food and medical supplies to people in the area for the next three months. Money and medicines were critical amid concern that diseases could spread through the Pakhtoonkwa, Punjab and Sind areas that were hit by the devastating floods, officials said. Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Ramola Talwar Badam from Dubai email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org