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Floods Prompt Mass Evacuations In Pakistan's South

  • RFE/RL

Flood victims stand in line to get food handouts while taking refuge with their family in a relief camp for flood victims in Sukkur, Sindh Province, on August 27.

Flood victims stand in line to get food handouts while taking refuge with their family in a relief camp for flood victims in Sukkur, Sindh Province, on August 27.

Pakistan has begun evacuating 300,000 people from another southern city in Sindh Province as a flood surge inundated homes and swamped vast areas of farmland.

The evacuation of Thatta and its surroundings was ordered overnight after waters of the Indus River caused a breach in the city's protective embankment. A second breach later occurred in the same region.

City administration official Manzoor Sheikh said about 70 percent of Thatta's population had been moved to safer places shortly before midday, while army engineers were trying to plug the breaches.

But a government official in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and commercial hub, located around 100 kilometers west of Thatta, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal: "There is no way to close the breach in the dam because the water pressure is [too high] and the breach will increase. The only strategy with us is that to evacuate the people from the area and let the water drop into the sea. There is no other way to close this breach."

In Thatta, which has not been flooded, streets were deserted and shops shut.

Reports say buses, cars, trucks, and bullock carts were leaving the city, while many people were seen walking with their livestock and carrying their belongings.

Some of the displaced were fleeing for higher ground, while others were heading toward Karachi, such as a man and woman who spoke to RFE/RL from the port city.

"I am from Alamkot area and I have no information about my children, we are removed here," the woman said. "We thought that this was the line between life and death."

"My children are still trapped there, and we are under immense fear and I think this is a dreadful situation and we are in big trouble," the man said.

'From Bad To Worse'

The evacuation of the Thatta region came as hundreds of thousands of people were already on the move. A spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Islamabad estimated that 1 million people were displaced in the last 48 hours in Sindh alone. Maurizio Giuliano said the situation there was "getting from bad to worse."

The flood surge, which followed weeks of monsoon rains, has affected more than 17 million people, leaving 1,600 dead and about 8 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The death toll from the floods was expected to rise. Officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages.

The Pakistani Army, the United Nations, and other local and international relief groups have been working around the clock to provide medicine, food, and water to survivors, but many of the affected areas are hard to reach because of the water.

In Brussels, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid said Pakistani officials were "overwhelmed by the magnitude of this disaster." Kristalina Georgieva also announced that Islamabad was preparing to host an international donors conference in late November to fund its post-flood reconstruction.

And in Geneva, Emilia Casella of the World Food Program appealed to donors to provide funds for the relief efforts, saying her organization had a shortfall of about $90 million.

"We are appealing to donors to respond and also to those donors who have made pledges to actually confirm those pledges because those pledges actually need to be confirmed in order for us to be able to go ahead and acquire the food that's needed to be brought into the country," Casella said.

Taliban Threats

The appeal comes after the Taliban issued a veiled threat against foreigners helping Pakistan respond to the floods, potentially complicating relief efforts.

The Associated Press quoted Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq as saying that the presence of foreign aid workers was "unacceptable," adding, "When we say something is unacceptable to us, one can draw one's own conclusion."

There have been no attacks since the humanitarian crisis unfolded, but the UN and the United States say they are taking the threat of attacks seriously.

Washington said it had information of a "real threat" that extremist groups could carry out attacks against foreign aid workers or government institutions in Pakistan.

The UN said, however, it would not be deterred by threats of violence:

The Taliban has attacked aid workers in Pakistan in the past. A suicide attack against the office of the UN's World Food Program in Islamabad last October killed five staffers.

written by Antoine Blua in Prague, with contribution from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and agency reports
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