KARACHI (AFP) – Authorities in Pakistan were battling on Monday to save a city in the flood-devastated southern province of Sindh after a mass evacuation as floodwaters threatened to wreak further havoc.
The near month-long floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country’s worst natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever-present in the miserable camps sheltering penniless survivors.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas in the south since Saturday, including from Shahdadkot, with most of the city’s 100,000 residents escorted to safety or making a getaway by any means possible.
Dozens of villages around Shahdadkot were inundated, district administration official Yasin Shar told AFP, as flood waters threatened the city.
“We have issued final warning to remaining residents to leave Shahdadkot as the danger of flooding was mounting,” Shar said, adding that no casualties had been reported so far.
Nearly 90 percent of people living in the city and surrounding villages had left and the remaining were being rushed out, he said.
On Sunday Sindh provincial irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said that urgent efforts were being made to save the city by reinforcing an embankment built to protect it.
But the embankment was under pressure from the waters and “we are trying to save the city from the unprecedented flood”, he said.
Dharejo, however, stressed there was no threat to Hyderabad, the second-largest city in Sindh and Pakistan’s sixth biggest overall with a population of 2.5 million.
Pakistan’s weak civilian government has faced an outpouring of fury over sluggish relief efforts, while officials warn the country faces ruinous economic losses of up to 43 billion dollars.
Millions of survivors are in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water and require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.
Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Islamabad, told AFP that 1.5 million people were being treated for everything from respiratory and skin infections to diarrhoea.
Giuliano added: “The estimate of those currently without shelter is now 4.8 million. Tents and plastic sheets are in the pipeline for 2.4 million people, while one million already received these items.”
A major 2005 earthquake killed 73,000 people and made 3.3 million homeless, but disaster management officials say that the scale of the recent flooding was much larger than that.
Hadi Kalhoro, administration official of the town of Sujawal, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Hyderabad, said that 100,000 people had been evacuated from adjoining villages during the past five days alone.
“Flooding has destroyed banana plantations and sugar cane crop in the region, but so far there are no casualties,” Kalhoro said.
The International Monetary fund is expected to begin talks with Pakistani officials this week on restructuring a 10-billion-dollar loan.
The IMF in 2008 approved a rescue package for Pakistan as the country struggled to cope with bloody attacks by Islamic radicals, 30-year-high inflation and fast-depleting reserves.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday praised the global community as emergency donations for Pakistan neared 500 million dollars, but warned the country faces “years of need”.
The United States, which has made the nuclear-armed nation a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, has given the most, followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain.
However, Louis-Georges Arsenault, head of emergency operations for UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, said the international community could do far more.
“One of the major challenges we have, which is quite extraordinary, is the lack of level of support from the international community right now,” Arsenault told the BBC.
“Our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we have been receiving even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis that we have seen in decades.”