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'Four million' at risk from Pakistan floods

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 August 2010

Four million people could be affected as the devastating floods in Pakistan spread south, Save the Children tells Channel 4 News, as Jonathan Miller discovers towns where the only aid is coming from Islamist charities.

Four million could be hit by floods in Pakistan

Four million people are at risk in Pakistan as the monsoon rain continues to fall and the flood waters surge south.

Aid agencies in Pakistan said the crisis was evolving constantly and international aid was desperately needed.

Save The Children relief worker Mohammad Qazilbash told Channel 4 News: "This disaster is unfolding in front of us. We do not have the full picture yet.

"The province of Sindh is now heavily affected and I think it will reach four million or more people impacted. This is a mega disaster. The Pakistan government – in fact, no government – has the capacity to deal with this."

Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, is currently on a visit to the UK and has faced major criticism for not returning to his country, which is facing the worst floods in its history.

Up to 1,600 people have died in the floods and thousands of towns and villages have been completely submerged.

Sindh, the province which houses Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi, is further south of the areas worst hit several days ago in the northwest of the country. However, as the monsoon continues through August, it now also faces devastation, along with several other parts of Pakistan, including its "rice bowl", where food crops are grown.

Around 350,000 people have been evacuated from the low-lying areas of Sindh province.

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Roads, bridges, houses, businesses and health buildings could all be swept away. Nineteen of the 23 districts in Sindh are on high flood risk warnings, Mr Qazilbash told Channel 4 News.

"The information is going out to them, but we feel that because of the scale and the volume of the water rushing down the Indus – it's coming in like a freight train – they just need to get out of the way. Communities will need to scramble," he said.

"But people need resources to evacuate – boats, trucks. And these people do not have them. So there is a fear that more people will be stranded, cut off, and they will need desperate assistance."

As a result of the break down of bridges and roads, as well as the security threat in some areas of the country, international aid agencies are struggling to get help to the communities which need it most, although the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which today launched an appeal for Pakistan, said 300,000 people had been helped by its members.

Mr Qazilbash said: "There are still areas which are inaccessible because of the break down of bridges and roads and as a result our teams are using mules, donkeys, hiking into these areas to get to these isolated communities.

"Aid is not getting into the country. The British Government has donated 2,000 tents to Save The Children and there has been aid donated to the UN but really it is just a trickle of aid compared to the magnitude of the devastation."

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller said that many Pakistani people have seen no aid reach them yet - apart from aid provided by Islamist charities.

"We visited the town of Kalabagh. It is nestled under a mountain, behind which Islamist insurgent groups have their bases. Another group of Islamist humanitarian workers was distributing aid in Kalabagh, where many of the houses along the riverside have been completely destroyed.

"I met the local governor who said that the area had suffered a catastrophe and he hoped assistance would come. A local man called Fazal Akhmed Qazi told me of their disbelief that they’d had no help at all."  

The disease risk is also increasing as flood waters recede in some areas of the country. Charities are seeing more incidents of diarrhoea and other waterborne illnesses.

Islamist charities move in to provide aid
We passed through flooded rice fields and people were congregating on the side of the road looking for help. There were many such groups, writes Channel 4 News foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller.

At one point we stopped to find out what they were doing. It was a little alarming to see the aid post festooned with a banner whose motif was a long Jihadi sword.

The Urdu script read: Falah-e-Insaniat.

This group is the latest incarnation of a notorious Islamist militant group. They used to be called Jamaat-ud-Dawa and before that – Lashkar-e-Toiba. Both of the previous incarnations had been banned by the Pakistani government. Laskhar-e-Toiba is widely deemed responsible for the attack on Mumbai in November 2007.

Falah-e-Insaniat is one of several Islamist humanitarian charities to capitalise on the disaster and provide support in the absence of much in the way of government assistance.

Read more

"Thankfully we have not seen cholera yet – but quite honestly it is just a matter of time," said Mr Qazillbash.

"If the adequate assistance is not provided immediately, it will not be long before we get an outbreak of cholera and other waterborne diseases."

There is also growing recognition in Pakistan and across the global community that this crisis will not be solved quickly.

"The area to the east of the Indus River, which has also been badly affected, is Pakistan’s rice bowl," explains Jonathan Miller.

"Not only does it produce food for Pakistan it provides rice for exports. The food crops will have been totally destroyed. There is a growing recognition among UN and other aid agencies that the crisis caused by the floods will be prolonged, and will become a wider food and economic crisis."

Mr Qazillbash added: "The monsoon is still going on and will continue until September. We expect more rainfull in August and this will cause further displacement and misery for the population.

"Once the rains stop and the waters recede, this is going to be a long rehabilitation and recovery process.

"They are suffering from the economic crisis, high food prices – they were just scraping by. Then there is this natural catastrophe and it is beyond their coping mechanisms. They need desperate international assistance."

How to donate
To make a donation to the DEC Pakistan appeal call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque.

You can also donate £5 by texting the word GIVE to 70707.

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