Hungry flood-hit Pakistanis protest lack of help

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Hundreds of hungry families blocked a highway in Pakistan's flood-hit south on Wednesday, demanding the government provide more food as the UN warned of a "triple threat" to desperate survivors.

Up to 500 people from a government-run relief camp in Thatta city, in the worst-hit province of Sindh, blocked the main road between Karachi city and Thatta for three hours calling for the state to provide food and shelter.

"No food or water has been provided to us for the past two days," Mohammad Qasim, a 60-year-old resident of the flooded town of Sujawal, told AFP.

The World Food Programme issued a stark warning of the threat to food supplies after a month of catastrophic flooding that has affected 18 million people, as the deluge flows south on its way to the Arabian Sea.

Pakistan's government -- widely painted as corrupt and bogged down in red tape and infighting -- has been derided in domestic media over its response to the floods and has been the focus of angry isolated protests by the affected.

While the international community has now donated 700 million dollars, domestic anger has been mounting at the civilian government, which has staggered from crisis to crisis in the 30 months since its election.

"There is a triple threat unfolding as this crisis widens and deepens," World Food Programme chief Josette Sheeran said at a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday, after visiting flooded areas.

That threat -- to people's seeds, crops and incomes -- leaves them "vulnerable to hunger, homelessness and desperation -- the situation is extremely critical", she said.

Devastation to farmland and transport links mean that food prices have rocketed, fanning frustration among the masses already struggling to make ends meet in Pakistan's shaky economy.

In televised comments Wednesday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told his cabinet that the flooding had "devastated the infrastructure on a large scale and the government is trying to cope with the crisis".

The floods have engulfed a fifth of the volatile country of 167 million, with 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) of rich farmland ruined, according to latest UN figures.

Meanwhile, floodwaters flowing south in Sindh province entered the town of Jati and threatened nearby Choohar Jamoli town on the east bank of the swollen Indus.

Senior city official Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro told AFP that a few thousand people remained trapped in both towns, and that power cuts were hindering rescue efforts, though all other towns in the area were now safe.

Pakistani troops and city workers managed to save Thatta from the waters by fixing a breach in river defences on Tuesday, with most of the population of 300,000 now returned home, according to officials.

Sindh is the worst-affected province, with 19 of its 23 districts ravaged as floodwaters have swollen the raging Indus river to 40 times its usual volume.

One million people have been displaced over the past few days alone.

Pakistan's government has confirmed 1,645 people dead and 2,479 injured but officials warn that millions are at risk from food shortages and disease.

In the country's militant-troubled northwest, where Pakistani airstrikes Tuesday killed 55, initial relief efforts were still underway, more than two weeks after torrential rains stopped in the region.

Head of the UN refugee agency's office in Peshawar, Ahmad Warsama, said by next week shelter would be provided for 80,000 people who could still not access their villages after flooded roads and broken bridges cut them off.

Khalid bin Waleed from Charsadda said that most of the 350 homes in the village were destroyed and no government help was forthcoming.

"Now people are living on the rubble of their houses and those better off are camping on their roofs," Waleed said, adding that a lack of electricity was also worsening conditions in hot and humid conditions.

"We have not received any help from the government yet. Only charities are helping people in our area and they are doing a really good job," Waleed said.

Meanwhile, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited flooded Sindh and met with President Asif Ali Zardari, whose unpopularity worsened when the floods began in July and he failed to come home from a European trip.

Clegg -- still mending fences after Prime Minister David Cameron in July accused Pakistan of failing to do enough to rid its territory of terrorists -- promised to send a team of experts to help improve a barrage in Sindh built by British colonialists in 1932.

Britain has donated 64 million pounds (99 million dollars) to flood relief.

© 2010 AFP

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