Half million flee as more floods sweep Pakistani south

The disaster has killed over 1,600 people and devastated lives of millions.

Last Updated: Aug 06, 2010, 14:44 PM IST

Sukkur: Pakistani authorities have evacuated more than half a million people in southern Sindh province, threatened by the worst floods in 80 years that have stoked popular anger at absent President Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari may have made the costliest political mistake in his career by leaving for state visits in Europe at the height of the disaster which swallowed up entire villages, killed over 1,600 people and devastated the lives of millions.

Many Pakistanis were already critical of Zardari`s leadership of a country where militants still pose a major security threat despite army offensives, poverty is widespread, little has been done to improve education and corruption is rampant.

Floods have already spread to Sindh but more raging waters threaten to inflict far worse suffering by Saturday.

"Monsoon rains continue to fall and at least 11 districts are at risk of flooding in Sindh, where more than 500,000 people have been relocated to safer places and evacuation still continues based on the Meteorological Department`s alerts," said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While authorities have conducted evacuations they are struggling with relief efforts. Food supplies are becoming a serious issue in some areas and conditions are ripe for disease.

`They don`t care about us`

"There have been constant rains which have aggravated the situation in the areas already struck by floods," said Saleh Farooqui, the director general of the provincial Disaster Management Authority.

"People had to leave their homes because of floods and they now also have to face problems because of rains."

Zardari, whose reputation is already tarnished by corruption allegations, is currently in Britain for a five-day visit. Prime Minister David Cameron invited him to dinner on Thursday at his Chequers official country residence.

Formal talks on Friday will focus on strengthening cooperation in countering terrorism.

"What else you do expect from these rulers. Our President prefers to go abroad rather than supervising the whole relief operation in such a crisis," said Ghulam Rasool, a resident of the flooded southern Sukkur town.

"They don`t care about us. They have their own agenda and interests." The floods have so far ravaged the northwest and the agricultural heartland Punjab.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, has led flood relief efforts since state relief agencies don`t have the resources to cope.

In a typical scene, Army helicopters fly above roofs of houses to pluck people stuck there since entire villages were submerged. But there is only so much the military can do.

Across the country, many Pakistanis fend for themselves.

Many are out in the open and are likely to be displaced again, just like cattle-breeder Khair Mohammad.

"We don`t have anything, no one has given us even a single penny," said Mohammad, standing under a rain that had not stopped all morning.

Some distance away, an elderly woman who fractured her leg while leaving her flooded house sat on a portable wooden bed, wondering, like so many others, if help will ever come.

In other flooded areas, some Pakistanis were living off a small amount of bread. Getting food is a huge challenge because roads have been destroyed, cutting off villages.

Horses, donkeys and mules may have to be used to try and reach villages, officials say.

Some of those who do have access to markets can`t afford to buy food because shortages have driven prices higher.

Bureau Report