'Ramadan or not -- we are dying of hunger'
Pakistani flood survivors already short of food and water began the fasting month of Ramadan yesterday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future.
A US Navy ship carrying helicopters and 1,000 marines reached Pakistan's southern coast to boost relief efforts, as the UN warned the disaster was far from over, saying dams in Sindh province could still burst in the coming days.
"There is more water coming along," said spokesman Maurizio Giuliano.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been sharply criticised for visiting Europe as the floods began, made his first visit to victims of the disaster yesterday and toured one of the dams.
About 1,600 people have died, and the UN estimates up to seven million people need emergency assistance.
Damage to crops, roads and bridges has caused food prices to triple in some parts of the country, adding to the pain of those marking the fasting month.
"Ramadan or no Ramadan, we are already dying of hunger," said Mai Hakeema (50) who sat alongside her ailing husband in a tent outside the city of Sukkur.
Observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk each day for a month each year to control their desires and show empathy for the poor.
Mufti Muneebur Rehman, one of the country's top religious scholars, said victims living in difficult conditions dependent on charity could miss the fast and perform it later in the year.
In the North West, where residents are especially devout, many refugees said flood or no flood, they would fast.
"I cannot disobey God, so I am fasting as it is part of my faith no matter what the conditions are," said Fazal Rabi (47) who was staying in a tent village in Akbarpura.