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Landslides, Rain Complicate Pakistan Relief Efforts

  • RFE/RL

Flood victims live in temporary shelters as it rains in Muzaffarabad in the Pakistani-administered Kashmir region.

Flood victims live in temporary shelters as it rains in Muzaffarabad in the Pakistani-administered Kashmir region.

Landslides and heavy rains are complicating relief efforts in flood-hit Pakistan, with rescuers having to resort to using donkeys to reach those in need.

Helicopter airlifts of food to the worst-affected areas in the northwest have been largely grounded, adding to the misery of tens of thousands of people already cut off by destroyed roads.

The government has come in for criticism over what some are calling its lack of preparation and inadequate response to the worst flooding in Pakistan's history.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has called for international aid, admitting that the government does not have the resources to respond to such a disaster.

Rains and winds continued over the weekend, causing landslides and making it nearly impossible to get aid to Pakistan's northwest Swat Valley and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

All 29 bridges over rivers and tributaries throughout the Swat Valley have been washed away by rains and most roads have been destroyed, prompting relief workers to deliver aid by mule and even on foot.

"The terrain that we are operating in is very formidable, very high mountains, very restrictive valleys," said U.S. flying officer George Kelly, who has been manning helicopters dropping off supplies in the flood-affected region. He added that "weather challenges have been a problem for the last couple of days."

Anger At Official Inaction

The floods are affecting nearly the entire country of Pakistan. Starting two weeks ago in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the floodwaters rushed down the Indus River through central Punjab Province and down into the southern Sindh Province.

The floods are the worst in 80 years -- so far killing some 1,600 people and leaving an estimated 2 million homeless.

And Swat residents have voiced their frustration at the government response.

"The people of Swat have been the worst affected by the floods," one of them told Reuters. "Hundreds of people have been swept away by the floods. Thousands of houses have collapsed and hundreds of thousands have been affected. The inaction of the government in this crisis is regrettable."

"The federal and provincial governments have totally failed to deal with this catastrophe," another added. "There is no clean drinking water here, no food, nothing. Everything has been swept away by the floods."

Monsoon rains are generally expected this time of year. But Huma Yusuf, an analyst based in Karachi tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that even though the flooding started in the northwest two weeks ago, the government did not evacuate the villages farther south.

"I think the government's plan is to wait for the rains to stop, and then they'll do something. Because more rains are expected now," Yusuf says.

Yusuf says that in the week between the floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and those in Sindh, the government "hasn't learned anything."

Recovery Cost

There's also been anger at President Asif Ali Zardari, who is due to return to Pakistan today from a state visit to Britain and France.

Flood survivors and Pakistani political groups abroad have criticized Zardari's decision to continue the scheduled trip as the floods worsened.

The UN has compared the relief efforts needed with that of the 2005 earthquake, which killed some 80,000 people.

The UN envoy to Pakistan estimates that over $1 billion will be needed in aid to help Pakistan recover once the rains stop. The World Food Program projects that 4 million people will need food supplies for about three months after the rains stop.

Foreign donors and aid organizations have pledged tens of millions in relief funds.

Weather forecasts predict the rains will continue for the next few days.

with material from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, agencies