Flood victims' protests hamper Pakistan aid efforts
Angry outbursts by flood victims reliant on scarce aid are hampering relief work in Pakistan, the Red Cross said, as the nation struggles to cope with its worst-ever natural disaster.
A month after monsoons triggered catastrophic flooding throughout the country, submerging an area the size of England, eight million remain dependent on handouts for their survival, which they say are too slow coming.
Aid workers say they have fled outbreaks of violence among the frustrated survivors living in makeshift camps, while there have been isolated, spontaneous protests that have occasionally forced road closures.
Jacques de Maio, the head of operations for South Asia for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said it had to halt two distributions recently due to unrest.
“What we are detecting is a very worrying trend of areas where ... people are so in need, so resentful of not getting enough aid, that they turn understandably aggressive and this is bad because it doesn’t help in our efforts to reach more of them,” he said in Geneva on Thursday.
Aid worker Aslam Khwaja, working for Pakistan charity the Edhi Foundation, said he had witnessed three violent outbreaks in the past few days, including an attack on an aid worker near Thatta city, in the worst-hit Sindh province.
“People have been getting violent because there’s no coordination among the various aid agencies and the government, which causes delays in providing relief goods and makes people angry,” he said.
Tensions running high
An Agence France-Presse reporter said he had witnessed three small protests in the past few days in southern Sindh, with groups of about 50 chanting anti-government slogans outside their relief tents, seeking better relief provision.
He said tensions were running high, often leading aid workers to throw supplies from trucks to avoid the risk of being caught in a crowd.
“Everyone wants food for their children and that leads to fighting. We want to get food with dignity and respect,” said one survivor in Thatta city, Jeando Khan.
“They should give us food like humans and not throw the food to us as if we were dogs.”
While the international community has donated $700-million, domestic anger has been mounting against the widely unpopular civilian government, which has come under fire for its handling of the crisis.
The UN has warned that the slow pace of aid pledges could impede relief operations and says Pakistan faces a triple threat to food supplies—with seeds, crops and incomes hit.
“Given the number of those in need, this is a humanitarian operation of unprecedented scale,” Manuel Bessler, head of the UN’s coordination agency OCHA, said in a statement.
The floods have ruined 3,6-million hectares of rich farmland, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said farmers urgently needed seeds to plant for next year’s crops.
In southern Pakistan, hundreds of hungry and desperate families from a relief camp in Thatta blocked the highway to Karachi one morning this week, demanding the government provide more food and shelter.
“No food or water has been provided to us for the past two days,” Mohammad Qasim, a 60-year-old resident of the flooded town of Sujawal, told AFP.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said this week the flooding had caused economic losses of $43-billion.
The World Bank on Thursday raised flood aid to Pakistan to $1-billion, while the IMF approved $450-million in emergency financing to help the nation cope.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Thursday appealed to Muslims everywhere to direct their zakat tithes—donations required under Islam—to relief for Pakistan, rather than leave Pakistanis “alone to their fate”.
With the deluge flowing south, Sindh irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said on Friday that the last two towns lying between the flood and the Arabian Sea had now been completely evacuated.
But he said a breach in a canal had caused new flooding further north in Sindh.
“Around eight million people have been affected by the flood in Sindh and 2,5-million of them were displaced,” Dharejo said.
The government’s official death toll from the floods has reached 1 760, but disaster officials have said that number will likely rise “significantly” when the missing are accounted for.—AFP