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Flood relief under control, Pakistan's government says

By Sumeera Riaz   |   Aug. 23, 2013 at 4:43 PM   |   Comments

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NAROWAL, Pakistan, Aug. 23 (UPI Next) -- For the fourth summer in a row, flash floods triggered by torrential rains have hit Pakistan, claiming scores of lives and displacing more than a million people. Yet with thousands of people still cut off by the floods, an official says the government has refused help from humanitarian organizations this year.

"We do not need foreign aid to deal with the current disaster, and the Pakistan army has refused the assistance from foreign aid agencies," Brigadier Kamran Zia, chief of operations for the National Disaster Management Authority, told UPI Next.

The floods have left hundreds of thousands of children vulnerable to water-borne diseases caused by pollution and poor sanitation, a UNICEF assessment found. The organization says the newly elected government, in office just two months, has not asked any U.N. agencies in Pakistan for help.

"We are well-prepared to provide assistance to the government, but so far the government has not accepted our offer for assistance," said Dr. Tahir Manzoor, a health and nutrition specialist for UNICEF in Islamabad.

"The NDMA has kept the U.N. aid agencies at a distance, and the government has not allowed any international organization so far to come forward and take part in the relief efforts.”

Zia said his agency was carrying out an extensive disaster management plan and trying to reach out to everyone affected, even in remote areas. He said the authority still had more than 50 percent of its emergency relief in stock, including food, tents and medicines, and was trying to contact people who had been displaced within the country.

"The authority was well-prepared to cope with the disaster," Zia said. "But the situation was aggravated after the people living along the beds of rivers ignored all flood warnings and refused to evacuate."

He said flood warnings were issued well in advance.

However, residents of Narowal, Hafizabad and adjacent areas of Punjab province said the government did not issue flood warnings. Even the Gujranwala Sub-divisional officer, Muhammed Nadeem, told UPI Next no such flood warnings were passed on to him to vacate the areas.

The Gujranwala Division was left in the dark about the impending flooding, he said angrily. "We were not told to pass on any flood warnings to the residents along the river bank,” he said.

Despite the government contingency plan, thousands of people are still living in the open and complaining about the absence of aid.

"Around 500 houses have been washed away and submerged in the flood water in our village," a middle-age woman, Mukhtaran, of Hafizabad, the area of Punjabmost heavily affected by the floods, shouted when asked if the government had provided relief.

"We can't even take shelters in schools, which have been declared semi-permanent shelters, because they are also inundated," she said. "Where should we go? Our children are dying of hunger."

There also are complaints that the government response has been slow and inadequate.

Muhammed Usman, 60, of Narowal complained that people had to wade through waist-deep water for hours before they could get any help.

"The stagnant water is aggravating the situation, as it is hampering access to relief camps, and there is no aerial assistance," he said. "We are sleeping in the open, along the main roads."

 NDMA statistics show 169 people have been killed, including 55 in Punjab, 24 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 35 in Sindh, 18 in Balochistan, 12 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and 25 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The statistics also show that about 5,000 villages were hit, affecting more than 1.4 million people.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan's economy, employing most of the population. Official statistics show more than 1.3 million acres have been affected by the recent floods, out of about 19.7 million acres.

Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of Agri Forum Pakistan, an organization representing farmers, said the floods had destroyed 30,000 head of livestock, 100,000 acres of cotton, 80,000 acres of rice, 30,000 acres of sugarcane, 15,000 acres of corn, 70,000 acres of fodder, and 50,000 acres of fruits and vegetables.

"The government has set the GDP [gross domestic product] growth rate at 4.5 percent, but the recent devastation of the agriculture land will lower the rate by 1 percent, making it difficult for the government to meet the target set for this year," Mughal said.

The scale of the disaster is much greater than expected because of the aftereffects of the 2010 floods, the worst in 80 years, in which more than 2.5 million people were affected and more than 1,000 deaths reported, the International Red Cross said. Many Pakistanis have still not recovered from those floods.

Arif Mehmood, chief of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, told UPI Next that rains and snowmelt from the Himalayas, encroachment of riverbeds, and poorly maintained embankments that leak and collapse are the main reasons for the large-scale devastation.

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