Hm, does this mean I’m famous? A twenty-minute interview renders one short paragraph in the overall article… But at least I got to use the word ‘fetid’, which makes me immeasurably happy!
Pakistani prime minister cancels UN trip to deal with floods | World news | The Guardian.
Pakistan‘s prime minister has cancelled a trip to attend the United Nations in New York, where he planned to rebuild frayed relations with the US, saying he needs to co-ordinate emergency aid for flood victims at home.
Yousaf Raza Gilani’s decision was intended to stave off criticism made last year when Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, visited a French castle as epic floods ravaged the country. But it was also testament to the seriousness of this year’s calamity.
Aid agencies are scrambling to southern Sindh province where vast swaths of farmland have been inundated, more than 300,000 people are living in rough shelters and many more are at risk of malaria, dengue fever and food poisoning. Some 230 people have already died, and torrential monsoon rains continue to pound the region, smothering villages in as much as two metres of water.
“The TV images are not as dramatic as last year but the situation is extremely serious,” said aid worker Jeffrey Shannon of Mercy Corps, speaking from Sukkur. “You have fetid, stagnant water, filled with human waste and decomposing animals, which has nowhere to go. In some places it’s turning black and starting to smell, and the malaria season is well under way. That’s not good.”
Some of the worst affected areas were still struggling to recover from last year’s floods, which swamped one-fifth of the country. “The wrath of Allah has hit us twice,” villager Azrah Bibi told the UN news service IRIN.
The floods coincide with another health crisis in Pakistan. A major outbreak of dengue fever has spread across Punjab province, leaving hospitals overflowing with victims, some of whom have died. At least 3,000 cases have been reported in Lahore alone; a senior civil servant is among those who have died.
Whereas last year’s floods were caused by the Indus river bursting its banks, this year’s disaster is the result of unusually heavy monsoons in Sindh – a phenomenon some Pakistanis believe is caused by climate change.
Oxfam says 4.2m acres of land have been hit, but the immediate worry is the spread of disease. The UN children’s fund estimates that at least 2 million children are at risk, although the exact extent of the devastation is difficult to gauge.
Estimates of 5 million people being affected are based on rough population counts; a more accurate survey of the devastation is currently being carried out. There is little doubt, though, about the misery of those trapped by the rising waters.
Around 1.2m homes have been washed away, causing entire villages to move onto the roadside in search of shelter. Despite the profusion of water, supplies of clean water for drinking and cooking are desperately short. Humayun Babas, an aid worker with World Vision, has just returned from Badin district in southern Sindh.
“There is four or five feet of stagnant water yet mothers are having to cook and wash their children in it,” he said. “The mosquitoes are unbearable, even the livestock can’t stand it.”
The international response to the flood was slowed by the Pakistani government, which refused aid agencies permission to deploy until one week ago – a delay that drew sharp criticism from aid workers. But the experience of last year’s floods has also left many aid agencies better positioned to scramble aid into position now.
The British Red Cross said it had pre-positioned £1.7m worth of relief supplies such as tents and hurricane lamps to deal with such an emergency. It has also set up water treatment plants in two districts, describing conditions in temporary camps housing 300,00 people as “overcrowded and unsanitary”.