Efforts intensified Tuesday to help tens of millions of Pakistanis affected by monsoon rains that have fallen relentlessly since June, submerging a third of the country and killing more than 1,100 people.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called it “the worst floods in Pakistan’s history” and estimated that at least US$10 billion would be needed to repair the damage. “I solemnly promise that every penny [d’aide internationale] will be spent in a transparent manner. Every penny will go to those who need it,” he added.
According to Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, “massive damage has been done to infrastructure, especially in the telecommunications, roads, agriculture and livelihood sectors.”
The rains destroyed or severely damaged more than a million homes and devastated large tracts of agricultural land critical to the economy.
Authorities and aid agencies are struggling to speed up the delivery of aid to the more than 33 million people – one in seven Pakistanis affected by the floods, as many roads and bridges have been washed away.
In the south and west, there is hardly a dry place left. The displaced crowd onto large roads or high railroad tracks to escape the floods. Victims are wandering like ghosts in search of shelter, food and clean water. “For God’s sake, help us,” pleaded Qadir, 35, who is now camping with his family near Sukkur after walking for three days to get there. “There is nothing left in our house, we just managed to save our lives.”
In the northern mountainous areas, authorities are still trying to reach remote villages, which could add to the death toll of 1136 since the monsoon began in June.
Everything is just one big ocean
Pakistani officials attribute the devastating weather to climate change, saying their country is suffering the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.
“Seeing the devastation on the ground is truly mind-boggling,” Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman lamented Monday.
“Literally a third of Pakistan is under water right now,” more than in the 2010 floods, when 2,000 people were killed and nearly a fifth of the country submerged by monsoon rains. “Everything is one big ocean, there is no dry place to pump water from. It has become a crisis of unimaginable proportions.”
Sindh province in southern Pakistan is an endless horizon of water. And the country’s main river, the Indus, threatens to burst its banks.
Pakistan has received twice as much rainfall as usual, according to the weather service. In the worst-hit provinces, rainfall was more than four times the average for the past 30 years.
From crisis to crisis
The floods come at the worst possible time for Pakistan, which had already asked for international assistance to help its economy in crisis. The government has declared a state of emergency and called on the international community to support it.
On Tuesday, it launched an urgent appeal for donations of $160 million with the United Nations to fund an emergency plan for the next six months, initially to provide basic services (health, food, drinking water, shelter) to the 5.2 million people most affected.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed on Monday to the resumption of a long-negotiated financial support program essential for the country, and announced the release of a $1.1 billion package.
The U.S. announced on Tuesday an initial shipment of humanitarian aid, worth $30 million. Cargo flights have begun arriving from China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
“Pakistan is awash with suffering. The people of Pakistan are grappling with a monsoon on steroids the relentless impact of levels of rain and flooding is unprecedented,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. His spokesman announced that he will visit the country next week in “solidarity” with the victims.
Makeshift camps have sprung up everywhere – in schools, on highways, on military bases… to accommodate the displaced.
In Nowshera, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a college has been converted to house some 2,500 people, who are struggling to find food and water. “I never thought I would ever have to live like this,” said Malang Jan, 60, whose home was swallowed by the waters. “We lost our paradise and now we are forced to live a life of misery.”