Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pakistan struggling to protect two towns from surging floods

Eight million people remain reliant on aid handouts to survive, six weeks after monsoons caused devastating floods in the country's worst disaster in living memory. 
River defences in Pakistan's flood-hit south were bolstered Tuesday in a bid to save two towns from catastrophic flooding as the UN warned the world community must help the militant-hit nation recover. Eight million people remain reliant on aid handouts to survive, six weeks after monsoons caused devastating floods in the country's worst disaster in living memory. Advancing floodwaters continue to threaten the towns of Johi and Dadu in Sindh province, with 19 of its 23 districts deluged and 2.8 million people displaced, according to provincial authorities. "Armed forces and irrigation officials are racing against time to save Johi and Dadu," said provincial irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo. "Floodwaters are increasing pressure on Johi embankment, while the raging waters are just five kilometres (three miles) away from Dadu city," Dharejo said.

He said residents had formed a human chain to help reinforce embankments securing the towns. "It is very heartening to us that local people are being very courageous and helping authorities, picking up stones to reinforce the embankments," he said. Dadu and Johi are about 320 kilometres north of the main southern port city of Karachi. Meanwhile, the UN's development chief for Asia said the world must respond to Pakistan's crisis and help it rebuild to secure hearts and minds in the insurgency-wracked nation. Helping Pakistanis rebuild homes and businesses, reduced to rubble by the unprecedented deluge, will be even more important to long-term regional and global stability, said UN Assistant Secretary General Ajay Chhibber.

"Now that the water has receded in large parts... what's clear from these visits is that the early recovery needs to start now," said Chhibber during a visit Monday to the militant-hit northwest. "If there's greater unrest in Pakistan it will have much greater regional and global implications. "This is a country that is a very large, very important country in the region, a very large, very important country in the globe, so that battle for the hearts and minds of people here is very important." Global cash pledges have been slow coming to bolster rescue and relief efforts, with more than 21 million people affected by the floods. As Chhibber toured part of Nowshera town flattened by surging waters last month, one villager, Amanat Khan, stood helplessly next to a pile of broken bricks and wood that was his home until the floods smashed it to pieces. "We're completely paralysed with shock," said the 42-year-old father of four, who also lost his job in a medical store to the waters.

"I trust in God Almighty he will help me but right now I have no idea how to rebuild my life." In Nowshera half a million people have been affected and more than 40,000 homes suffered some damage, along with 151 schools and 22 health centres. The town is in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where 19 people were killed Monday in the latest suicide bombing in the militant-plagued province. Last week the UN said, that despite an improvement in aid donations after a visit to Pakistan by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in mid-August, extra pledges had "almost stalled" since a week earlier. An initial relief appeal has been about two-thirds funded, and Chhibber said a second appeal would be launched on September 17, seeking help for the next steps in Pakistan's recovery. Hollywood star Angelina Jolie arrived in northwest Pakistan Tuesday with the UN's refugee agency to draw world attention to the crisis. Jolie, the 34-year-old actress and roving envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited communities where 1.7 million Afghan refugees live.

"From what I understand the situation is on a scale that we have not really seen the likes of. It's on a huge scale," Jolie told reporters at a camp for the displaced. The floods have ruined 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres) of rich farmland, and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said farmers urgently needed seeds to plant for next year's crops. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has warned that the country faces inflation of up to 20 percent and slower growth because of the disaster. The floods have killed 1,760 people but disaster officials have said the number of deaths is likely to rise "significantly" when the missing are accounted for.


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