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August 24, 2010

Pakistan Braces for More Flooding

Authorities are working to protect Pakistan's southern region from rising water as the United Nations warned 800,000 people remain stranded by devastating floods.

Officials say the Indus River is expected to reach very high levels this week near the city of Hyderabad in Sindh province.  Emergency workers have been shoring up levees and evacuating tens of thousands of people.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, met with flood victims in the city of Sukkur Wednesday and announced the United States will provide an additional $50 million for relief efforts.

The U.S. has already provided roughly $150 million in flood aid. And the Pentagon said Wednesday that 15 military helicopters were assisting in relief efforts, with almost half-a-million kilograms of aid delivered.  It said the U.S. military has helped rescue more than 6,000 people so far, primarily in the hard-hit northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority estimates more than 460,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in Sindh province, more than twice the number reported last week, according to International Organization for Migration spokesman Jared Bloch.

"But, these estimates from NDMA put the total number of households damaged or destroyed at nearly 1.2 million across the country.  This would mean that approximately eight million people are either homeless or displaced and could be in need of shelter support from the government or international donors." Bloch said.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program is appealing for 40 more helicopters to provide aid to flood victims who it says are only reachable by air. And the agency says the need for food is rising faster that can be met. So far, the WFP has reached an estimated one-and-three-quarters-million people, said spokeswoman, Emilia Casella.

"The official target for food assistance at the moment is six million people over the coming three months.  Now, we all recognize that the numbers have been rising," Casella said.  "We are already expecting that the number of people needing food assistance will rise."

Nearly a month of monsoon rain triggered flooding that has killed an estimated 1,600 people and wiped out villages, infrastructure and farmland, leaving almost five million people homeless.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said any slackness in the global response to the floods may give extremists an opportunity to promote what he described as their destructive agenda. The Pakistani prime minister also warned that 3.5 million children are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.