PESHAWAR: Fears grew Monday about outbreaks of disease among 1.5 million people affected by Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years after monsoon rains killed more than 1,100 people across the northwest.
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.
Officials warn that a lack of drinking water is spreading cholera and gastroenteritis, saying they are working to evacuate people from affected areas such as Swat, the scene last summer of a major offensive against the Taliban.
“We estimate that about 100,000 people, mostly children, have been hit by cholera and gastro diseases,” said Syed Zahir Ali Shah, the health minister for the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Our priority is to first evacuate them to safe areas and then provide them with medical treatment.
“In cut-off areas and parts of Swat we have sent medical teams by helicopter,” he told AFP.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon pledged aid of up to 10 million dollars to meet the humanitarian needs of those affected by the crisis, saying he was “deeply saddened” by the floods.
The US government announced a 10-million-dollar aid pledge and has rushed helicopters and boats to Pakistan. China has also promised 1.5 million dollars, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Anwer Kazmi, a spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, said at least 1,256 people had been killed and that Swat was the worst affected district with 475 deaths.
“Food and shelter are the most critical needs of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people… the situation is seriously affecting the health of children and women in particular,” he told AFP.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said earlier that the floods had killed more than 1,100 people and affected over 1.5 million in the province, but had warned the death toll could rise further.
“We are also getting confirmation of reports about an outbreak of cholera in some areas of Swat,” he said.
Pakistan’s meteorological department forecast downpours of up to 200 millimetres in the next two weeks across the northwest, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the central province of Punjab and Sindh in the south.
Television footage and photographs have shown people clinging to the walls and rooftops of damaged houses as water rushed through villages.
Hundreds of survivors have sought shelter in schools in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, many having escaped the floods with children on their backs.
“My family is sheltering in a school, but no clean drinking water, food or medicine has been given to us,” Fahimud Din, 27, from the Charsadda neighbourhood of Peshawar, told AFP.
“My son is suffering from cholera, but there is no doctor,” he said.
He joined scores of flood victims who demonstrated for a second day, protesting against the sluggish relief effort in Peshawar.
The crowd shouted “give us aid sent by foreign countries” and “death to the corrupt government.”
Pakistan’s military and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) have been coordinating the relief effort, saying they have rescued more than 28,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter and boat.
The NDMA said nearly 30,000 homes had been damaged across the country.
In Pakistani-administered Kashmir, flooding and landslides killed 53 people, said Mehmood Khan, the head of the local Disaster Management Authority.
Riaz Khawaja, a television cameraman, who walked to Muzaffarabad over four days from Neelum valley spoke of scenes of devastation.
“There is destruction everywhere along the way and severe food shortages have hit the Neelam valley