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Pakistan floods strand the poor while rich go to higher ground

In the town of Muzaffargarh, those with their own transportation began leaving at the start of the Pakistan floods. But some 100,000 residents remain homeless and stranded.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / August 12, 2010

Pakistani flood survivor Haseena Begum, at a relief camp in Multan, Pakistan, Aug. 12, cries while talking about her home which was washed away by heavy flooding. Pakistani flood survivors, already short on food and water, began the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future.

K.M.Chaudary/AP Photo

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Muzaffargarh, Pakistan

Desperation is growing among those too poor to evacuate this agricultural town in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, where the worst flooding in 80 years has decimated crops and homes and forced the evacuation of some 250,000 residents, according to the town’s chief official.

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As the flood waters continue to spread south, the Pakistani government has issued fresh warnings to towns in southern Punjab and Sindh affected by the overflow of the Indus River, which runs the length of Pakistan, as well as rising levels in the Chenab River, upon which the town of Muzaffargarh is located. Pakistan’s Flood Forecasting Bureau has said that flooding is expected to peak Aug. 14.

The calamity has brought into focus the stark divide between the rich and poor in Pakistan. Those with their own transportation, or the means to hire rented trucks, began leaving the town at the start of the week, and nearly all shops, offices, and banks are now closed. But some 100,000 residents remain homeless and stranded.

No contingency plans

“What can we do? We cannot afford to hire a car or truck and leave, and we have nowhere to go,” says Attia Bibi, a farmer’s wife. Her family has erected a makeshift shelter on a raised dirt track that runs alongside the family’s submerged lands, which they rent from a wealthy landlord. Hundreds of similar tents line the D.G. Khan road, which leads into the main town, and residents say they have no contingency plans for further flooding.

The town's chief official, District Coordination Officer Farasat Iqbal admits the local government has its hands full but says that food is reaching most residents. "Some people are exaggerating their problems," he says, and insists that people should try to reach one of the 20 camps that the government set up in public buildings throughout the greater Muzaffargarh region.

Though the Army has plugged a number of barriers that protect it, the town is not yet out of danger from secondary flash floods. “The next 24 hours are a crucial period. There is a danger that our operation base – the main town center – could be gone,” Mr. Iqbal says.

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