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Pakistanis Struggle To Survive As Flooding Overwhelms Villages


Flood victims forced to live in a temporary shelter in Muzaffarabad in the Pakistani administered Kashmir region

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA PROVINCE, Pakistan -- The worst flooding in 80 years in Pakistan has submerged vast tracts of the country, affecting at least 12 million people.

But few places have been as devastated as the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Well over 1,000 people in the region have been killed by the rising waters there, and vast tracts of farmland and orchards have been destroyed.

Government resources have been stretched thin as the flooding has swept into the country's heavily populated southern and eastern provinces. As a result, people in the northwest are facing the disaster largely on their own.

A woman in the northwest region who has been trapped by the flooding told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, "We have been stranded here for the past 10 days. There is no food, nothing. Whatever food was available is gone now. We have eight children with us. There is nothing left [even] for the children, and the medicine that was here has also been used up."

Local residents and officials believe as many as 200,000 people, including tourists who were spending the summer in the Swat Valley, are trapped in the remote village of Bahrain.

No Hope

With roads and bridges swept away by the gushing water, ground links to the area have been severed, and the government has had to rely on helicopters to evacuate people and to deliver food, medicine, and material for shelter.

In Shahpur, a tiny village in the Shanagla district, hundreds of stranded families are pinning their hopes on the government, which they say is proving incapable of providing the needed relief.

Village resident Gulab Khan said families are quickly running out of food and there is no hope of assistance in sight. He told Radio Mashaal that "no government officials have visited the area and many people think they are being ignored by the government."

Observers say the government's response is being hampered by outdated rescue and relief machinery and staff with little or no expertise in dealing with natural disasters. Lack of money is also reportedly a problem for Islamabad. On August 6 the United States announced it will send $25 million more in aid money, on top of the $10 million it already sent.

Flood victims cross a temporary bridge as they flee flooded areas of Chakdara a region in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province,

One woman said that much of the aid material coming into the region -- which was the site of a massive assault against the Taliban last year -- has gone to Pakistani Army personnel stationed there.

"Nothing is available here -- no tomatoes, no flour, not even a candle to burn," she said. "We paid 15 rupees for one candle last night. Goods are coming to these army people in each helicopter, and they have stored it saying not releasing it to the people."

The rains and flooding have also ravaged the region's agriculture, one of the only sources of income for residents of the mountainous area.

Abdul Jabbar Karimi, a former local government official from Bahrain, told RFE/RL that the water has washed away everything. "Around 100,000 people are living in Bahrain. They are mostly poor. Our life depends on agriculture and our agriculture was completely destroyed," he said.

"Roads have been ruined. People here work only for three months by growing vegetable and fruits and then exporting it to other cities. In the rest of the months, the area is covered with snow, and we have no other means of earning. [The floods] destroyed our livelihood," Karimi said.

Economic Destruction

The flooding has also destroyed or damaged nearly all of the hotels and restaurants in the area, which normally host thousands of visitors at this time of year. The same hotels had been forced to close when the Taliban held power in the area, and many had reopened only a month before the onset of the flooding.

Azmat Ali Khan, the owner of Deluxe Hotel in Bahrain, told Radio Mashaal that his property has been devastated. "My hotel has 55 rooms and it is completely destroyed," he said. "One hundred percent of the houses have been completely destroyed in Bahrain. I appeal to the government, the army, and the NGOs to provide tents, medicine, and food to the affected people."

Residents of Mingora, the commercial center of Swat, have begun to protest what they say is the government's inability to handle the situation. At an August 6 press conference, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the president of the Swat-based NGO Global Peace Organization, said anger is mounting among the local population. He told Radio Mashaal on August 6 that people who are stranded will starve to death unless they get immediate assistance.

"We want to attract the focus of the government and the international community to the destruction caused by the floods," he said. "Around 200,000 people from Bahrain to Kalam, and around 100,000 people in Kana Pirkhana and Ghorband [villages] of Shangla [district] are stranded in their respective areas, and neither food nor medicine could be delivered to them. We demand today that food, clean drinking water, and medicine should be delivered to these areas."

Anger At Islamabad

The provincial government of the cash-strapped Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, already facing a crippled economy due to the waves of terrorism in its cities, has also expressed unhappiness with Islamabad's response.

A man escorts his wife out of their flooded village in Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh province, on August 6.

Sardar Hussain Babak, a key minister in the provincial cabinet and a leader of the ruling Awami National Party, says that international aid donations should be channeled to local authorities.

"The losses caused by this natural disaster are spiraling. $10 million was given by the United States and they [more than] doubled that amount the other day. Almost $8 million was pledged by the U.K. and more than $1 million by China and other countries," he said.

Babak adds, "An elected [local] government is in place and we know about all the losses and the affected areas very well. We suggest that positives results would emerge if all the funds were handed over to the provincial government for spending in the affected areas."

At a press conference, the director of the National Disaster Management Authority, Nadeem Ahmad, said that across Pakistan, a total of 12 million people have been affected by the flooding.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces alone, 650,000 houses have been either damaged or destroyed. More houses have been destroyed by the waters, he added, than in the country's devastating earthquake of October 2005.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on August 6 that the loss of human life and infrastructure due to the flooding in Pakistan was "colossal," and he appealed for international aid.

"At this time of crisis, I would like to appeal to the international community to support Pakistan to help alleviate the suffering of the flood-affected people," Gilani said. "Let me at the same time appreciate the quick response by some members of the international community, who have immediately rushed relief goods and provided other support. I would take this opportunity to appeal to overseas Pakistanis to extend support to the people of their homeland in coping with their losses and suffering."

The costs of reconstruction are estimated to be at least $2.5 billion.

Weather forecasts called for more rain in the coming days.

Radio Mashaal correspondents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province contributed to this report