Floods stir anger at Pak govt response | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 03, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 03, 2010

Floods stir anger at Pak govt response

Pakistani boys shift food items from a shop after a flash flood in Muzaffarabad yesterday. Fears are growing about outbreaks of disease among 1.5 million people affected by Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years after monsoon rains killed more than 1,200 people across the northwest.Photo: AFP

Pakistani authorities struggled yesterday to help victims of the country's worst flooding in memory, which has so far killed more than 1,000 people and prompted sharp criticism of the government.
The floods that have ravaged the northwest are testing a government that is heavily dependant on foreign aid and that has a poor record in crisis management -- whether fighting Taliban insurgents or easing chronic power cuts.
"We have lost everything. We only managed to save our lives. Nobody has come to us. We have become beggars, asking people for a piece of bread," said Mihrajuddin Khan, a school teacher in Swat Valley. "We are being treated like orphans, animals."
Rescuers are struggling to distribute relief to tens of thousands of people trapped in the submerged areas, where destroyed roads and bridges make access difficult.
Authorities are also expecting the death toll to rise as more heavy monsoon rains are due to lash the northwest this week.
The disaster management authority said several measures have been taken to ease the suffering of those still in the flooded areas. Tents and hygiene kits have been delivered. Helicopters and boats have been dispatched.
But analysts say the government really lacks the resources to take on a disaster of this scale.
The international Red Cross said yesterday that up to 2.5 million people across Pakistan have been affected by heavy flooding brought on by torrential monsoon rains.
"According to official sources, flooding caused by torrential monsoon rains has killed more than 1,100 people in Pakistan and affected up to 2.5 million people across the country in the past week," the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
"In the worst-affected areas, entire villages were washed away without warning by walls of flood water," it said in a statement, noting that thousands of people "have lost everything."
Unprecedented rains triggered floods and landslides, sweeping away thousands of homes and devastating farmland in one of Pakistan's most impoverished regions, already hard hit by years of Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked violence.
Pakistani officials warn that a lack of drinking water is spreading disease, even cholera, and saying they are working to medivac people from affected areas such as Swat, the scene last summer of a major offensive against the Taliban.
Syed Zahir Ali Shah, the health minister for the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, estimated that about 100,000 people, mostly children, were suffering from illness such as gastroenteritis and cholera.
More than 30,000 Pakistani army troops have rescued some 19,000 people from the marooned areas, but officials conceded some might still be trapped and awaiting help in remote areas including Kohistan, Nowshera, Dir and in the Swat valley.
The army has its own problems. In the town of Nowshera, 100 kms (62 miles) northwest of the capital Islamabad, military bases used for staging attacks against militants were flooded. The government's failure to help victims reinforced the long-held view that Pakistan's civilian authorities are ineffective, leaving the military to step in at troubled times.
The government of President Asif Ali Zardari has limited control over the military, and has also been undermined by tussles with the judiciary. It has been relatively ineffective in tackling corruption and reforming the economy.
"When you have a democratically-elected government it is expected that the civilian government will mobilize all their resources and will come to the rescue of the people," said Riffat Hussein, chairman, department of defense and strategic studies, at Quaid-e-Azam University.
"What we have seen is their almost total paralysis and they have not been able to mobilize the resources."
Many in the path of the floods scrambled to save their livestock. One man swam across heavy currents with his chicken tied around his neck. In one town, there were more than a hundred bloated buffalo carcasses, raising the spectre of disease.
People complained there was no early warning of flash floods from the government. Some were suddenly waist-deep in water, forced to grab their children and belongings and evacuate.
Analysts said part of the problem is the government has no long-term strategy to deal with such catastrophes.
"They are so preoccupied with trying to put out fires all the time and looking at the day-to-day things. They don't have the vision and the capability for a longer and broader perspective," said Talat Masood, a former army general and defense analyst.

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