Cholera fear as medics rush to Pakistan flood areas

Pakistani medical teams were rushing to the deluged north west today amid fears that cholera could spread after the worst floods in the country's history that have already killed up to 1,200 people.

Pakistani medical teams were rushing to the deluged north west today amid fears that cholera could spread after the worst floods in the country's history that have already killed up to 1,200 people.

The disaster has forced two million to flee their homes and people have railed against the government for failing to provide enough emergency assistance nearly a week after extremely heavy monsoon rains triggered raging floodwaters in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province.

The government says it has sent thousands of rescue workers who have so far saved an estimated 28,000 people and distributed basic food items.

The army has also sent some 30,000 troops and dozens of helicopters, but the scale of the disaster is so vast that many residents said it seemed like officials were doing nothing. Thousands more people in the province remain trapped by the floodwaters.

The anger of the flood victims poses a danger to the already struggling government, now competing with Islamist movements to deliver aid in a region with strong Taliban influence.

"We need tents. Just look around," said flood victim Faisal Islam, sitting on the only dry ground he could find in Nowshera district - a highway central reservation - surrounded by hundreds of people in makeshift shelters constructed from dirty sheets and plastic tarpaulins.

Like many other residents of Pakistan's north west, people camped out by the highway in Kamp Koroona village waded through the water to their damaged houses to salvage their remaining possessions: usually just a few mud-covered plates and chairs.

"This is the only shirt I have. Everything else is buried," said Mr Islam.

The army has given some cooking oil and sugar, but Mr Islam said they needed much more.

Now people in the north west also face the threat of waterborne disease - which could kill thousands more if health workers cannot deliver enough clean drinking water and treat and isolate any patients in crowded relief camps.

"To avert the looming threat of spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, we have dispatched dozens of mobile medical teams in the affected districts," said Sohail Altaf, the top medical official in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa.

Officials have yet to receive concrete reports of cholera cases, but fear of an outbreak is high, said Mr Altaf. Patients with stomach problems from dirty water were being treated in government medical camps, he said.

The disastrous flooding comes at a time when the weak and unpopular Pakistani government is already struggling to cope with a faltering economy and a brutal war against Taliban militants that has killed thousands of people in the past few years.

The death toll from the disaster has ranged from about 870 provided by the prime minister's office to 1,200 given by Bashir Ahmed Bilour, senior minister in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, who warned it could go even higher. More than two million people had been displaced, he said.

Pakistan's international partners have tried to bolster the government's response by offering millions in emergency aid.

Representatives from a charity allegedly linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group distributed food and offered medical services on Sunday to victims in the town of Charsada.

"We are reaching people at their doorsteps and in the streets, especially women and children who are stuck in their homes," said an activist with the Falah-e-Insaniat charity who would identify himself only by his first name, Saqib.

With suspected ties to al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the US military has said the group has stepped up activity in Afghanistan as well.

Pakistani militant groups often savage government ineffectiveness as a way to build support, a message likely to resonate with many in the north west who have criticised the official flood response.

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