Archive for Sunday, September 5, 2010

Many Pakistanis still waiting for flood aid

September 5, 2010

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A Pakistani girl takes shelter Saturday under makeshift tents at a camp for people displaced by floods at Shah Ghar village, Muzaffargarh district, Punjab Province, in Pakistan. More than 3 million people have yet to receive desperately needed food aid, according to the U.N., and the Pakistani government says nearly 1 million people have received no help of any sort.

A Pakistani girl takes shelter Saturday under makeshift tents at a camp for people displaced by floods at Shah Ghar village, Muzaffargarh district, Punjab Province, in Pakistan. More than 3 million people have yet to receive desperately needed food aid, according to the U.N., and the Pakistani government says nearly 1 million people have received no help of any sort.

— Abdul Rehman and his family live under a tree next to a pile of rubble on a newly created island where his house used to be.

In the month since his home was destroyed in the raging floodwaters that inundated Pakistan, he has gotten no aid of any kind from the government or private aid groups to help him survive, he said.

Frustrated and desperate, he joined a protest with dozens of other villagers that blocked the main road in this area 10 days ago. In response, police opened a criminal investigation against him, he said. And he still hasn’t gotten any food or even a tarp to shield his family of six from the blazing summer sun, he said.

More than 3 million people have yet to receive desperately needed food aid, according to the U.N., and the Pakistani government says nearly 1 million people have received no help of any sort.

“They need everything,” said Ahmad Kamal, spokesman for Pakistan’s disaster management agency, who appealed to international donors to send tents, ambulances, mobile clinics and hygiene kits.

The lack of aid has led to anger against an already-fragile government that is seen as a key U.S. ally in the battle against Islamic extremists along the frontier with Afghanistan.

The anger itself is hampering relief efforts, with the Red Cross twice halting distributions after being confronted by mobs of people upset they were not getting enough aid, the organization said Thursday.

Part of the problem is simply the scale of the crisis. The floods that began their slow wave of destruction across Pakistan at the end of July swamped as much as one-fifth of the country, leaving 8 million people dependent on aid, according to the U.N. And that number keeps growing as more areas are affected.

“This seems to be a never-ending disaster,” said Stacey Winston, a U.N. spokeswoman.

But many of those affected also blame the problem on corruption by local government officials, who steer aid to their supporters and withhold it from others.

Of the 32 families in Daira Dinpanah, about 90 miles west of the city of Multan, only seven who have ties to local political leaders have received aid of any kind, said Khalid Iqbal, 35, who stands on the side of the road clutching a list of all those needing assistance, waiting for an aid group to pass by. The remainder have survived by scrounging meals at the local mosque, or, like Rehman, temporarily bouncing between relatives’ houses before returning home.

A month after the flood hit, the village’s fields are still filled with water and its roads are a muddy swamp. Rehman’s house is surrounded by floodwaters and reachable only by a makeshift bridge of two steel girders laid end to end, held aloft in the middle by a bed sunk in the water.

His snack shop on the road is gone and even the ledger where he recorded the debts his customers owed him was destroyed.

“There is nothing for us beside these broken homes,” the 30-year-old said, surveying the piles of mud and brick where his house once stood. “We left this area in the night, at 2 a.m., with only the clothes we were wearing. We still have only the clothes we were wearing.

“The government should give us shelter, give us money to rebuild our houses and to buy some food. If it can’t do that, than at least it should give us tents so that our children live in respectable conditions. Here we are living in the open sky. How can we survive like this?” he said.

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