KARACHI: Pakistani authorities began evacuating half a million people living along the swollen Indus River in the country’s south on Thursday, as floods caused by the worst monsoon rains in decades threatened new destruction
The floods have already killed an estimated 1,500 people over the past week, most of them in the northwest. An estimated 4.2 million Pakistanis have been affected, including many in eastern Punjab province, which has seen numerous villages swallowed by rising water in recent days.
As fresh rains fell Thursday, bloated rivers gushed toward Sindh, where hundreds of thousands of the most impoverished Pakistanis live along the water because of its fertility and because it is cheaper than safer ground.
The Indus originates in the Himalayas and travels through the country, emptying into the Arabian Sea. In Sindh, some 150 points along the Indus were considered especially vulnerable, officials said.
Authorities are using 30 boats to help the evacuation of some 500,000 people living along the river banks and have set up 400 relief camps, said Sauleh Farooqi, a top disaster-response official in the province.
“Rains have weakened the protective walls and embankments (along the river), but we are trying to reinforce them,” Farooqi said. “It was difficult to get the people to move from their places because they were not willing to leave.”
In Punjab, the army used boats and helicopters to move stranded villagers to higher ground. Many of the survivors carried what possessions they could, from clothing to pots and pans. Many held their children.
“We are migrants in our home,” said Ahmad Bakhsh, 56, who fled flooded Sanawan town.
An aerial view from a military helicopter showed that a vast area between Multan and Muzaffargarh cities looked like a large lake, with the occasional dead cow floating by.Maj. Gen. Nadir Zeb, the region’s army commander, said many people had ignored flood warnings and only realized the danger of the situation when water entered their cities, towns and villages.“They risked their lives, but we are reaching them,” he said.In the northwest, which has not seen such flooding since 1929, rescue workers have struggled to deliver aid because of washed-out bridges and roads. Manuel Bessler, the UN’s humanitarian chief in Pakistan, said at least 4.2 million people were affected, and that the potential for waterborne diseases was worrisome.“We are facing a disaster of major proportions,” Bessler told reporters in Geneva by telephone. “Even a week after the disaster we don’t have all the details. Roads are washed away. Bridges are destroyed. Whole areas are completely isolated and only accessible by air.”Poor access to isolated areas was leading people to “feel abandoned and not taken care of,” Bessler said.Many flood victims have complained that aid is not reaching them fast enough or at all, expressing anger against the Pakistani government that could grow as the floods spread.