UN appeals for helicopters as 800,000 cut off from aid

PAKISTAN battled yesterday to save areas threatened by more devastating flood waters as the United Nations warned that 800,000 people in desperate need of aid had been cut off by the deluge.

The UN launched an urgent appeal for more helicopters this week to deliver aid to those people reachable only by air, after floods triggered by a torrent of monsoon rains washed away bridges and vital access roads.

“As monsoon floods continue to displace millions in southern Pakistan, an estimated 800,000 people in need across the country are only accessible by air,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Pakistan’s worst humanitarian catastrophe has affected more than 17 million people, while officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages.

Around 1,500 people are confirmed dead by Pakistani authorities, but UN officials suggest the death toll could prove higher.

“These unprecedented floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges, and this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community,” said John Holmes, UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Global pledges have topped €550 million, but Pakistani and international officials have raised concerns about the slow pace of aid and Islamabad has warned that total losses could reach €34 billion.

Some 4.5 million people remain in urgent need of shelter, the International Organisation for Migration said yesterday.

Another two million left homeless by the floods were due to have received shelter materials such as tents and plastic sheets within the next couple of days, its representative Salim Rehmat told a press conference.

Officials warned yet more Pakistanis could be affected in the fertile southern plains of Sindh province, which face the risk of further flooding in the next few days as the major Indus river threatens to burst its banks. “Hyderabad and large surrounding districts are still facing a threat,” Sindh’s irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said.

“We are working on a war footing. This is an extraordinary flood and we are at war with the extraordinary floods.”

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas close to Hyderabad, a city of 2.5 million people on the lower reaches of the Indus, where more than 40 nearby villages have been swept away. Thousands of irrigation officials had been sent to build up river barriers at high-risk spots, but a full moon this week would speed up water flows and increase the risk of floods.

Barkaat Rizvi, spokesman for the district administration, said residents were still leaving vulnerable areas, adding: “Danger is still there.”

In Kotri, a western suburb, the river had swelled from its normal width of 200 to 300 metres to almost 3.5 kilometres, an army spokesman said.

Water lapped at a road in Jamshoro district that is normally six or seven kilometres from the river. The roadside was dotted with the tents of those displaced by the disaster.

Five hundred kilometres further north, authorities were also battling to save the city of Shahdadkot from surging waters after most of its 100,000 residents had been moved to safety.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that more than 3.5 million children were at risk from disease.

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