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Humanitarian Crisis Mounts in Pakistan After ‘Monsoon of Generation’

August 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Tens of thousands of Pakistanis are in need of food and shelter after flooding that has killed some 1,500 people so far. Kylie Morris of Independent Television News reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: the floods in Pakistan, which started their destructive path in the north, but are now moving south. Officials say 1,500 people have died, and 1.8 million are in need of food.

We have a report narrated by Kylie Morris of Independent Television News.

KYLIE MORRIS: It’s the monsoon of a generation, and villages across Pakistan are knee-deep in gushing water, and the rains keep falling, swelling the country’s three great rivers, already at breaking point. Only a few bridges have withstood the floods in the northwest.

In Nowshera, the rain stops only long enough to catch your breath, clean off, put up a tent, spread out your sodden belongings. Then it starts again. For the 700,000 people thought to have lost their homes in this district alone, there’s little relief.

This man says 700 people died when his refugee camp was swept away. His children have been hungry and thirsty for three days. There’s widespread complaint at government inaction, but officials say they’re doing what they can, despite swamped roads, washed-out bridges and destroyed communication lines.

BRIGADIER AHMED WAQAS, Army of Pakistan (through translator): Our major priority is to save people’s lives. All our efforts are concentrated on that. So, we’re using boats and helicopters to rescue people.

KYLIE MORRIS: There are promises of more help. The U.S. has diverted six more helicopters from their operations in Afghanistan. It’s the only way to reach people still stranded by the high water. Washington has also extended a supporting hand, promising $10 million in aid, and the U.K. 10 million pounds.

But in the worst-affected areas, the chief minister already says they will need more, because the losses and damages are so huge. In Pakistan, any vacuum in providing relief is potentially dangerous. The military has fought a costly battle with Islamic militants in the Northwest, fighting to clear the Pakistani Taliban from its strongholds. But in Nowshera today, volunteers on the ground from Jamaat-ud-Dawa, supposedly a banned hard-line religious group, flying its banner openly, collecting donations for its charitable work.

We were told that the clinic itself distributing medicine to stranded survivors is run by a group also linked to Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Aid here comes in political colors. Survivors in Charsadda queued all day for their bag of American-provided flour.

WOMAN (through translator): Our house has collapsed due to the flood, and America is helping us at this time. There are no walls left on our house. We were sitting under the sky, at the mercy of God. They have done a good job. They have provided a kindness.

KYLIE MORRIS: But even as kindness reaches some in the Northwest, the floodwaters swept downriver into the populous Punjab heartland, and it keeps on raining. There are small emergencies all over the country. These villages north of Peshawar asked to relocate because a nearby dam is nearing breaking point.

MAN (through translator): We have to evacuate. The water level is rising, but we’re all stuck here. The road ahead is blocked.

KYLIE MORRIS: Tonight, there’s pressure on Pakistan’s government and its president to unblock the way ahead for the relief effort. The only certainty is the need — the question still, how it can be met.