Pakistanis protest sluggish flood aid
More rains may worsen crisis and destabilize nation
SUKKUR, Pakistan — Angry flood survivors in Pakistan blocked a highway to protest slow delivery of aid as heavy rain lashed makeshift housing yesterday with a forecast of more flooding increasing the urgency of the international relief effort.
Pakistan’s worst floods in recorded history began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous northwest and have spread throughout the country. Some 20 million people and 62,000 square miles of land — about one-fifth of the country — have been affected.
The scale of the disaster has raised concerns it could destabilize the country, which is pivotal to US hopes of defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Hundreds of victims blocked a major highway with stones and garbage near the hard-hit Sukkur area, complaining they were being treated like animals. Protester Kalu Mangiani said government officials only came to hand out food when media were present.
“They are throwing packets of food to us like we are dogs. They are making people fight for these packets,’’ he said.
The UN children’s agency warned that 3.5 million children were at high risk of deadly waterborne disease such as diarrhea and cholera. It said it did not have enough funds to distribute clean water to victims, or give them medical care.
The Sindh irrigation minister, Jam Saifullah Dharejo, said the dam in Sukkur faced a major test of its strength as floodwaters coursed down the Indus River into Pakistan’s highly populated agricultural heartland. “The coming four to five days are still crucial,’’ he said.
The United Nations has appealed for an initial $460 million to provide relief, of which about 60 percent has been donated.
The latest flooding hit a poor region on the border between Sindh and Baluchistan provinces over the weekend. Sher Khan Bazai, the top government official in Nasirabad district, said 25,000 families had been made homeless by waters 8-feet deep in some places. About 4,000 small villages had been either cut off or washed out.
When the floodwaters recede, millions of farmers who used the Indus River to irrigate their crops — and propel Pakistan’s economy — face an uncertain future.
The UN has warned that unless farmers in hard-hit Punjab and Sindh provinces manage to plant their winter crop of wheat in mid-September as normal, there might be food shortages in the region and the nation as a whole.
The extent of the damage is still being calculated, and new flooding is occurring. But the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated 1.7 million acres of crops had been destroyed. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said loses would amount to “billions of dollars.’’
The disruption in food supplies is causing price increases across the country.
More than 70 percent of affected people rely on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the UN. Many are subsistence farmers like Abdur Razaq, who had 15 acres of land where he grazed two buffalo and two cows. The money he got from those animals was enough to feed his wife and five children.
He said authorities told him that his land was safe from the floods but that turned out to be false: the high water came rapidly at night. He could only think of saving his family, leaving his animals behind.
The Indus has its source in Tibet. From there, it skirts China, heads into India then enters Pakistan south of the Karakoram range before starting its long journey — some 1,976 miles — through the heart of the country into the Arabian Sea in Karachi.
The river has irrigated crops since the Bronze Age, when the region was home to the thriving Indus Valley Civilization. The current system of canals and dams that make it the breadbasket of Pakistan date back to British colonial rule.
By the time the river gets to Punjab and Sindh, it can reach more than a half-mile wide during a normal monsoon season.
Now, after floods fed by exceptionally heavy monsoon rains, it stretches more than 15 miles.