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Pakistan floods: residents brace for a second wave of problems

Pakistan floods recede but experts warn of a second wave of heavy rains that could spell disaster for those who already remain cut-off from aid now that many bridges have been washed away.

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Though that's helpful, Daniel Toole, the South Asia regional director for Unicef, says that as the flooding in Pakistan is “probably the biggest emergency on the planet today,” it's not enough. “We cannot spend pledges," he says. "We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges.”

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Pakistanis take things into their own hands

At the airbase, Mr. Khan, along with a band of school teachers from his village, now plan to make a 3-day trek by foot first to the markets of Swat’s main town of Mingora, to procure food and medicine, then take it back to their families in the mountains in a round-trip of some 60 miles. “We were watching our children starve, so we had to go get help,” he explains.

The men are visibly weak and shaken by their experience. “I had to sneak out of my home so my children did not know I was leaving, else they would not stop crying” says Jamshed Ali, another teacher. Despite the lack of food, Ali says his family continues to fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan, eating cucumbers and drinking water at the traditional Iftaar, or meal to break the fast.

Struggling to supply aid, but relationships are building

Pakistani and US soldiers meanwhile, are struggling to supply the cut-off regions with supplies before the next heavy rains arrive. For its part, the US says it has so far rescued over 3,500 people and sent 230 tons of food aid to flood victims in Chinook, Blackhawk, and CH-47 helicopters flown in from the Ghazi airbase.

There is also some evidence that the US help has been generating some good will in a region once ruled over by Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah and his father-in-law and firebrand preacher Sufi Muhammad, who led thousands of young men from Swat into battle against US forces in Afghanistan in 2001.

Abdul Sattar, an elderly man who had just been rescued in a Chinook, told the Monitor: “Even if it’s an enemy country giving us help, we are still very grateful and indebted to them.” Khushal Khan, the teacher, added: “These people who want to see peace realize that America is not our enemy.”

US Army Captain Michael Parker says that the villagers often shake his hand and elderly women sometimes embraced military officers. “It’s great to be a part of this humanitarian effort,” he says. “The situation out there is very sad, but I know if my country was in trouble I’d want others to help out.”