Looters exploit Pakistan flood misery
Armed bandits are exacerbating the misery of Pakistan’s massive floods, stealing cattle and food from survivors fleeing the country’s worst humanitarian crisis, witnesses said on Friday.
UN officials have warned that the extent of the losses to Pakistan’s infrastructure and economy will put the country back years.
The United States has increased its aid to $76-million and said US Senator John Kerry will visit Pakistan next week to raise public awareness and drum up donations for a fractious ally where anti-US feeling runs high.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who Thursday visited flood victims for the first time, has cut back a scheduled visit to Russia next week to less than a day because of the crisis, his office announced.
Political pressure has been building on the unpopular president from the powerful opposition and the general public after he failed to cut short a visit to Europe last week in order to deal personally with the crisis.
But in the village of Karampur outside the city of Sukkur, local residents waded through stagnant flood waters up to their chest, retrieving valuables and lashing out at the government for failing to protect them from looters.
Some villagers said that they preferred to guard their flooded homes while sending their wives and children to safety. Others said they had been looted while trying to flee during chaotic scenes.
“There was nobody to rescue us from the floods and now there’s nobody to save us from bandits. We were waiting for help when armed men came and seized our belongings at gunpoint,” said Abdul Karim (20).
“There was not so much. Two goats and some wheat and rice. They snatched it all and escaped.”
Speaking to Agence France-Presse in a tent city in Sukkur, mother of five Mai Meema (60) said she lived in Khanpur. “We left with our belongings in a tractor when armed men surrounded us. They snatched everything and fled.
“We were poor people but never slept on an empty stomach. This flood has made us beggars. We have nothing at all. They deserve God’s curse. Instead of helping us, these criminals looted us.”
Pakistan says up to 20-million people face direct or indirect harm, although without providing a detailed breakdown on how. The United Nations believes 1 600 people have died, while Islamabad has confirmed 1 343 deaths.
The Pakistan meteorological service has forecast scattered and at times heavy rain in coming days but said water flow was dropping. Heavy rain lashed the north-west, suspending US and Pakistani helicopter air drop missions.
In the Punjab town of Muzaffargarh, local official Farasat Iqbal said the danger remained, while Jamil Soomro, spokesperson for the government of southern province Sindh, said the intensity of floods had eased.
The United Nations has appealed for $460-million, saying $175-million has already been pledged, but that billions will be needed in the long term as the country struggles to rebuild infrastructure and replant crops.
The US, which has put Pakistan on the frontline of its war on al-Qaeda, has begun dispatching US Marine helicopters from an amphibious assault ship to help with relief, amid concerns over Islamist extremism.
But while US military helicopters and aid packages have been important to the relief effort, hard-line Islamic charities have been still more visible on the ground in distributing desperately needed food, water and medicine.
Lack of clean drinking water and sanitation are spreading gastroenteritis and skin diseases, particularly among children, doctors say.
“This is a crisis bigger than the tsunami and Haiti combined. The global community has to understand that. It is huge, it is unprecedented,” said Irshad Shaikh, a regional adviser on emergencies to the World Health Organisation.
“Here they have lost every coping aspect they have—houses, crops, livestock. There is absolutely no coping structure in the communities ... They have been left totally destitute in 10 to 12 days.
“This disaster is going to scale back Pakistan for years.”—AFP