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Pakistan braces for more rain as floods hit 3.2 million

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-04 00:59:38
Pakistan braces for more rain as floods hit 3.2 million


PESHAWAR: Pakistan issued new flood warnings and the country on Wednesday faced a "serious humanitarian disaster" after downpours which have affected 3.2 million people and killed up to 1,500.

A week into the crisis and as more monsoon rains lashed the country, anger was reaching boiling point among impoverished survivors complaining that they had been abandoned by the government after their livelihoods were swept away.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was to chair an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday to estimate the damages -- expected to run into millions of dollars -- and speed up the relief work.

"This is a serious humanitarian disaster," the UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told AFP, saying that discussions were under way to determine whether the situation warranted a fresh appeal for donor aid.

The United Nations said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed to stop disease spreading after Pakistan`s worst floods in 80 years following relentless monsoon rains.

Nadeem Ahmad, chairman of Pakistan`s National Disaster Management Authority, estimated that roughly three million people were affected -- 1.5 million in the northwest and the same number in central province Punjab.

About 1.4 million were children, said Marco Jimenez Rodriguez, a spokesman for UNICEF.

Authorities in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued an alert to people living around Warsak Dam, one of the country`s biggest dams and lying outside Peshawar, as water levels rose.

Pakistan`s weather bureau forecast widespread rains in the southern province of Sindh, Punjab, Pakistani-held Kashmir, the hard-hit northwest and southwestern Baluchistan over the next three days.

Flash flooding was expected in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Baluchistan, it warned, with heavy thunderstorms in the capital Islamabad.

The military, Pakistan`s most powerful institution, said more than 54,000 people had been rescued from flood-hit areas and moved to safer places, with 40 helicopters and 450 army boats mobilised as part of the rescue effort.

Anger was growing among survivors as President Asif Ali Zardari pressed on with a visit to Europe.

"Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for the welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and the UK," said Sher Khan, 40, in Majuky Faqirabad, one of the worst affected villages.

The president made a trip to his family`s stately home in the French countryside on Tuesday before travelling on to London to begin a five-day visit.

Zardari is due to hold talks with Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday, but some British lawmakers of Pakistani origin pulled out of a planned lunch with the president on Thursday, saying he should be back home.

A crowd of protesters gave Zardari an angry reception as he arrived at his central London hotel, saying the trip was a waste of scarce money that could be better spent on flood relief.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity on a UN terror blacklist and considered a front for the group blamed by India for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said it was helping with the relief effort.

The group has sent 10 truck-loads of goods and nine medical teams to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, according to spokesman Yahya Mujahid.

The local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has said up to 1,500 people have died as a result of the floods, although there are fears the toll could rise further.

Record rain last week triggered floods and landslides that destroyed entire villages and ruined farmland in one of the country`s most impoverished and volatile regions, already hard hit by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence.

The UN said around 980,000 people had lost their homes or been temporarily displaced.

BDST: 10:27 HRS, August 04, 2010.

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