Tuesday 24 October 2017

Pakistan facing humanitarian crisis as millions suffer in flood

Ben Farmer in Peshawar

Pakistan is facing a "major humanitarian crisis" with up to two and a half million people affected by the worst flooding in 80 years, a United Nations official has said.

Flash floods triggered by monsoon rains have killed 1,500 and officials fear the toll may double as rescuers reach remote regions of the north-west.

Thousands remained trapped, many on rooftops, with dwindling food and clean water as medical teams tried to prevent outbreaks of cholera and malaria.

Bridges, roads and hundreds of houses have been washed away and forecasters have predicted more rain until Thursday.

The flooding has been worst in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly the North West Frontier. One and a half million people have been made homeless there, adding to the crisis, which has already seen a million refugees flee fighting in Swat between the army and militants.

Poisoned

As victims criticised the government for doing too little, charities linked to Islamist extremists were reported to be filling the gap.

Ahmed Warsame, head of the UN refugee agency in Peshawar, said: "It's quite likely with the water still there, diseases like cholera may happen. We are also quite worried about malaria."

Syed Zahir Ali Shah, the provincial health minister, estimated that about 100,000 people, mostly children, were already suffering from gastroenteritis and diarrhoea. An aid worker for Save the Children in the Swat Valley said the infrastructure was destroyed and wells had been poisoned by floodwater.

He said: "In the next few days people may run out of food and there's no clean water."

Amir Haider Kahn Hoti, the provincial chief minister, said almost all roads and bridges had been destroyed in the Upper Swat Valley.

Islamabad said it had so far saved about 28,000 people. Thirty thousand troops and dozens of helicopters have been sent by the army, but victims complained the government had been overwhelmed.

Hidayat Ullah Khan, from Nowshera Kalan, said hundreds of families had been trapped on their roofs without water or food. He said: "We were waving to the hovering helicopters but they could not evacuate us."

Charities with links to Islamist extremists may gain support if their aid efforts succeed, as they did after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

Trapped

The Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, which is believed to have ties with a banned charity linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said it had set up 13 relief and six medical camps.

Salman Shahid, from the foundation, said: "We're the only group that is providing cooked food to trapped people." ( © Daily Telegraph, London)

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