The death toll from the worst floods in living memory in Pakistan rose to 1,100 on Monday. With rescue efforts well under way, concern is now shifting to preventing water-borne diseases from spreading among the 1.5 million displaced.
The United States and the United Nations have each pledged $10 million toward relief efforts, and the Pakistani Army has mobilized 30,000 troops to aid in the rescue of those still stranded. China also pledged 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in emergency funds.
Zia-ur-Rehman, a spokesman for Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, which is spearheading relief and rescue efforts, told the Monitor that Army helicopters are being employed to rescue the thousands still stranded in various districts including Kohistan and Swat, the scene of a major military offensive last year.
“The most pressing needs now are food items and fresh water,” says Rehman. He adds that although the water is beginning to recede in some areas and people are returning to their homes to recover their possessions, more monsoon rain is forecast for later tonight.
Around 27,000 stranded; airlifts time-consuming
But rescuing them by air is a long and painstaking process. Army helicopters airlift two or three people at a time, according to Noor-ul-Wahid, a spokesman for a Pakistani nongovernmental aid organization, Al-Khidmat Foundation.
“People are waiting on their rooftops and some have not eaten for two or three days,” he says, adding: “Their wells are contaminated, they are in dire need of fresh water and water filtration units.”
How aid groups and governments are helping
Mr. Wahid says he expects the eventual death toll to rise far higher than is currently being reported, given the number of people still unaccounted for. The Pakistani Red Crescent Society is now distributing water decontamination kits and anticholera kits among its 50,000 volunteers, according to spokesman Mike O’Brian.
According to a report in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English daily, up to 2,000 people taking shelter in schools in Peshawar lack mats or quilts days after arriving, and are forced to huddle for warmth on damp nights. On Sunday, several hundred people in Peshawar protested the government's failure to provide for their needs.
Much of the destruction resulted from flash floods and landslides after the heaviest monsoon rains in 80 years began to fall in late July. A spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of lives.
In addition to $10 million in emergency funding, the US is providing four inflatable rescue boats, two water filtration units that can each fulfill the daily needs of 10,000 people, an initial delivery of 50,000 meals, and 12 prefabricated steel bridges to temporarily replace highway bridges damaged by flooding.