Officials in Pakistan said Sunday that its largest freshwater lake in southern Sindh province had swollen to “dangerous” levels from an incessant monsoon rainfall, warning of more flooding in surrounding districts and urging villagers to evacuate amid a forecast of fresh downpours.
The development prompted provincial authorities to make a cut into the embankment of Manchar lake to allow the swelling water to eventually flow into the nearby Indus River rather than inundating densely populated areas.
Provincial Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said, however, the water released through the lake breach would still affect approximately 125,000 people.
“It was a difficult decision [but] it had to be taken,” Memon told reporters, adding that his government had already taken measures to evacuate villagers to safety.
The lake, one of Asia’s largest, spreads over Jamshoro and Dadu districts west of the Indus River. The districts are among Pakistan’s 80 districts worst hit by the flooding blamed on climate change driven by erratic rains. This is the severest flooding in decades in the South Asian nation.
The calamity has claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 people, including 453 children. More than 12,500 people have been injured in the disaster that has affected an estimated 33 million people since mid-June when the seasonal monsoon rains begin. More than 600,000 people are sheltering in relief camps, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Outbreak of diseases
On Sunday, Sindh Health Minister Azra Pechuho noted the outbreak of disease in the country's worst-affected province of Sindh.
“More than 134,000 cases of diarrhea and 44,000 cases of malaria have been reported in the province,” she told local Dawn News TV. Pechuho said more than 100,000 skin-related conditions, along with 101 snake bites and 500 dog bites have been reported so far among flood victims.
The United Nations Population Fund last week said at least 650,000 pregnant women and girls, 73,000 of whom are expected to deliver in the next month, are among the flood victims, with many of them lacking access to health care facilities and support they need to deliver their babies safely. Pakistan authorities also say 47,000 pregnant women are sheltering in the camps.
The NDMA in its latest situation report said the flooding, landslides and swollen rivers have caused massive damage to infrastructure in Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.
Nearly 1.5 million houses, 243 bridges and more than 5,500 kilometers of roads have been washed away or damaged.
Meteorologists forecast more precipitation in Pakistan, which has already received nearly three times the 30-year average rainfall. Sindh, with a population of 50 million, getting 464% more rain than the 30-year average.
Meanwhile, officials said rescue operations are ongoing, with troops, civilian authorities and volunteers using helicopters and boats to evacuate people in flood-hit regions to relief camps.
Pakistan has appealed for an "immense humanitarian response" from the international community, estimating the rain and flooding have caused an estimated $10 billion in damages.
During a visit Sunday to Baluchistan, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif repeated the appeal, saying his country was battling “one of the worst climate-induced calamities.”
The Pakistani foreign ministry said that 35 planeloads of relief supplies have already arrived from China, France, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with more expected in the coming days.
The humanitarian assistance is being delivered to flood victims, but most have yet to receive it because broken roads and bridges are hampering the relief operations, according to rescue and aid teams.
On Sunday, UNICEF delivered 32 metric tons of life-saving medical and other emergency supplies to support flood-stricken children and women in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan.
“This shipment is critical and lifesaving, but only a drop in the ocean of what is required. The risk of an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dengue and malaria, keeps increasing every day as people are forced to drink contaminated water and practice open defecation,” said Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF representative in Pakistan.
“We need urgent support to help children grappling for survival,” said Fadil, who echoed many of the Sindh health minister’s concerns, while warning of respiratory diseases in disaster-hit districts.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said Saturday it has deployed a disaster assistance team to lead Washington’s response to the catastrophic flooding.
“We stand with the people of Pakistan, and are working closely with a range of partners to support urgent relief efforts,” USAID administrator Samantha Power said on Twitter.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Pakistan on September 9 to tour flood-hit areas, saying the unprecedented rains were caused by what he described as a “monsoon on steroids.”
Last week, Guterres renewed his call for the world to stop “sleepwalking” and urgently address climate change challenges. “Today, it's Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country," Guterres warned.
The U.N. has launched a flash appeal for $160 million in aid to help Pakistan tackle the "unprecedented climate catastrophe.”