Sunday 19 November 2017

Death toll to rise as flood waters recede

Faisal Aziz

Flood waters were threatening to engulf two large towns in southern Pakistan yesterday, a month after the disaster began, as the UN warned that tens of thousands of children could die from malnutrition.

The floods are Pakistan's worst-ever natural disaster in terms of the amount of damage and the number of people affected, with more than six million people forced from their homes, about a million of them in the last few days as the water flows south.

The disaster has killed about 1,600 people, caused billions of euro of damage to homes, infrastructure and the vital agriculture sector and stirred anger against the US-backed government that has struggled to cope.

Floodwaters are beginning to recede across most of the country as the water flows downstream, but high tides in the Arabian Sea mean they still pose a threat to towns in Sindh province such as Thatta, 70km east of Karachi.

Water had broken the banks of the Indus near Thatta and also broken out of a feeder canal running off the river, compounding the danger, said Riaz Ahmed Soomro, relief commissioner in the southern province of Sindh.

"The water has not reached the town up to now but it is approaching," he said.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the delta town, which had a population of about 300,000.

The floods began in late July after torrential monsoon downpours over the upper Indus basin.

The death toll is expected to rise significantly as more bodies of many missing people are found, the disaster management authority said.

The floods have damaged at least 3.2 million hectares (7.9 million acres) -- about 14 per cent of Pakistan's entire cultivated land -- according to the UN's food agency. The total cost in crop damages is believed to be about 245 billion rupees (€2.25bn.)

Authorities have been battling for days to save the town of Shahdadkot in northern Sindh's rice-growing belt, raising an embankment several kilometres long as the water has crept higher.

The flood barrier was still holding, Mr Soomro said.

The UN said aid workers were becoming increasingly worried about disease and hunger, especially among children in areas where even before the disaster, acute malnutrition was high.

UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja said: "If nothing is done, an estimated 72,000 children, currently affected by severe malnutrition in the flood-affected areas, are at high risk of death."

Sunday Independent

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