Pakistan's flood victims find little help from government

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 9, 2010 

SUKKUR, Pakistan — Hungry, bewildered and bedraggled villagers are arriving by the thousands in Sukkur, a town in Pakistan's southern Sindh province that so far has escaped the country's devastating flooding, only to find that little or no help is available, victims of the disaster said.

Trucks and buses arrive in wave after wave with sacks, beds, and mattresses piled high and the passengers, usually women and children, perched precariously on top.

Others wander into the outskirts of town with their herds of buffalo, their most valuable possession, having walked for days with shotguns strapped to their bare backs to ward off the bandits that menace the Sindh countryside.

Many of those fleeing the flooding are now sleeping on the sides of the roads, under bridges and at the railway station in oppressive heat and humidity, with mosquitoes stalking them through the night.

The United Nations said Monday that Pakistan's floods, now in their third week with a death toll estimated at around 1,600, have affected 13.8 million people, more than the combined victims of the three most recent major natural disasters, this January's earthquake in Haiti, the 2005 quake in northern Pakistan and the 2006 Asian tsunami.

The raging waters have washed away some 300,000 homes in all four provinces of Pakistan, and 10,663 villages have been affected, including 2,500 in Sindh, the U.N. reported.

In Washington Monday, Marine Gen. Jim Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, said in a statement that because "continuing heavy monsoon rains over the next few days will only add to the challenges of this humanitarian crisis, the United States government has been rushing a wide range of assistance to the Pakistani people in close coordination with the government of Pakistan."

Jones said the Agency for International Development is providing international and Pakistani relief organizations that have experience in the affected areas with $35 million in financial aid in addition to the $7.5 million already designated to assist people in the affected area.

In addition, he said, the U.S. has delivered 436,000 meals that meet Muslim dietary requirements, 12 pre-fabricated bridges, 14 rescue boats, six large-scale water filtration units and a 25 kilowatt generator, and U.S. helicopters have saved more than 1,000 people so far.

Sindh was the last area hit by the flooding as the waters tumbled south across Pakistan and the torrent began to reach the province over the weekend, and Sukkur, at the northern tip of Sindh, is a focal point for the still-growing disaster. At Sukkur, a barrage — a structure on the Indus River similar to a dam that was built by the British from 1923 to 1932 to irrigate some 5 million acres of farmland — is now threatened.

"At the moment, Sindh is the biggest concern. It is still developing," said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the U.N.

Habiba, a woman who goes by one name, arrived in Sukkur at 4 a.m. Monday with about 60 of her fellow villagers, after traveling day and night for three days from her village of Marakh Bijarani, some 37 miles away. They all crawled to safety with a few clothes, cooking pots and bedding in a single tractor and trailer loaned to them by a local landowner.

The villagers are now camped in squalid conditions in a school building near the airport at Sukkur. Only about half the tiny village escaped, however, only those who'd taken refuge on the raised bank of a dike at the moment when the water appeared.

Habiba made it out with two young children, but the fate of her husband and five other children, as well as the rest of the village, is unknown because they were on the other side of the village when the flood hit.

"I haven't been able to contact my husband. We have no news on the others," said 40-year-old Habiba, who'd left her remote home district for the first time. "We are now at God's mercy."

A school caretaker had taken pity on them and let them into the building, but they still had no food and no money.

"The water came suddenly, when a dike (some distance away) broke. There was a lot of water. Maybe six, 10 feet. Our houses are gone," said Abdul Sattar, one of the group.

Under a highway overpass near the railway station in Sukkur, several hundred displaced people are living on the muddy sides of the road, many spending their third nights in the open. They had no water or food, surviving on the charity from passing townsfolk. They said they'd been turned away from government relief camps, which were full. A newborn baby died there Monday.

"The ministers, the VIPs pass this spot in their motorcades, but they don't stop," said Shaukat Ali, 45, who'd arrived in Sukkur with some 200 people from a village in Kashmore district and were living under the overpass, which provided scant shelter from the rain. "If they're not going to give us anything else, at least give us drinking water."

"They (the government) are taking all the aid for themselves. They're pocketing it. There's nothing coming to the people," said Mukhtiar Ali, Shaukat's brother. "The government has done nothing for us. No medicine, no food, no water, no tents, no blankets."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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