South Asia Devastated by Worst Rainstorms, Floods in Years

KARACHI, Pakistan, July 13, 2007 (ENS) - Pakistani and international aid workers just today reached some of the remote villages of Sindh and Balochistan provinces flooded by a series of major storms in late June. The deadly floods came at the beginning of South Asia's monsoon season.

An estimated 2.5 million people have been affected by flooding following four days of heavy rains in the wake of cyclone Yemyin on June 23, which killed some 300 people. Earlier in June, Cyclone Gonu also damaged the region and claimed the lives of hundreds more.

Across the region, an estimated 770 people have lost their lives and over three million people have been affected in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Cyclonic storms in the Arabian Sea are rare, but weather officials say that it is extremely rare to see so many storms within the space of a month.

Rains and flash floods have washed away dams, bridges, and railways, and marooned rural villages with little communications infrastructure.

This isolation has complicated efforts to gather information about the extent of flood damage.

A woman in the Gadaab slum district, Karachi receives a food parcel from the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (Photo courtesy Red Crescent Society)
The Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority estimates that number of people affected now stands at 2.5 million, and other estimates indicate 250,000 or more have been left homeless. The livelihood of 70 percent of the population of Balochistan is affected, the disaster agency said.

Mubashir Fida arrived in the city of Turbat just after Cyclone Yemyin struck the area in his capacity as information officer with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Still, weeks later, he says, conditions remain very difficult for the estimated 250,000 people left homeless by the floods.

"Everything was washed away. People are using bed sheets for shelter because itís too hot to sleep indoors, even in a tent, and the usually busy market is destroyed and empty," he says. "The city is just a heap of mud."

The Pirbhat Women Development Society said Monday that displaced people living in the open are facing multidimensional problems - unclean food and drinking water, and unclean sleeping places on dry grass. "There is no alternate way using the same roads for latrine-lavatory for the affected people, and that will cause immense diseases in the area," the society said.

People are attempting to form camps but they urgently need everything - tents, chlorine to disinfect drinking water, sanitation facilities, and food.

UNICEF says that three out of four people affected are children and women, and at least 300,000 of affected children are under five years old.

Accessibility remains a concern, with many areas still cut off by rising water, and many water distribution systems have been totally or partially destroyed, leading to poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions that are causing waterborne diseases, dehydration and infection, UNICEF said on Wednesday.

"With hospitals and health clinics closed or only partially functioning, humanitarian aid is desperately needed. The worst hit areas in Balochistan and Sindh are among Pakistan's most disadvantaged, making children and women there especially vulnerable to natural disasters," UNICEF said

Late Thursday, Mercy Corps relief trucks finally reached the washed-out village of Jhal Magsi with the first 5,000 basic kits, which contain rice, oil, sugar, bottled water, soap and other supplies.

The team "literally waded into water to register families" this week, said Dee Goluba, a member of the agency's Global Emergency Operations team who is coordinating the flood response.

Also on Thursday, aid workers finished a 36 hour distribution of roughly 3,000 kits to families in Shadad Kot in Sindh Province.

Many of the displaced people are children like these boys in Pakistan. (Photo by Mubashir Fida courtesy IFRC)
There's either too much water or too little. Mercy Corps says people in this area are living along 15 kilometers of the main road, sleeping in makeshift shelters and enduring daytime temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than 50 Mercy Corps workers are now involved in efforts to reach 90,000 people in 151 villages. Eventually, the organization hopes that 11,000 households will receive the family emergency kits, which also include lentils, tea, candles and matches, and a wash bucket. Partial funding for the kits comes from a grant from USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

The agency also has opened three health camps co-located at small rural health facilities in the worst-hit areas.

Mercy Corps hopes to begin a cash-for-work program this weekend using part of a $500,000 grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bolster the flood response. The program will give local residents a way to earn an income by clearing debris, repairing bridges and other infrastructure and helping speed the recovery.

Muslim Aid now reports that further villages were flooded after the storms had passed when the Nari and Mula rivers in Balochistan overflowed.

In addition, the Dadu district has been badly damaged by continuous flooding from the Kirthar mountain ranges in Balochistan, and Muslim Aid has found that more than 100,000 people in 300 villages are affected.

Vast torrents from Kambar - Shahdadkot district have also flowed into Dadu, with the flow of water threatening an estimated 200,000 people in the Dadu district.

Muslim Aid has been working in the worst affected villages for the last two weeks, with a team consisting of Pakistan Country Director Khobaib Ahmed Vahedy, two program managers, and 20 volunteers.

Muslim Aid is establishing a medical support distribution system to clinics and basic health units in the area, distributing 3.25 million aquatabs and 300,000 medicinal antibiotics that Canada-based Global Medic donated.

"In villages across South Asia, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who are hardest hit by the monsoons," says Ian Heigh, who is leading the International Federationís Field Assessment and Coordination Team in Pakistan.

"In an instant, homes, belongings and livelihoods are washed away, leaving people with nothing," he says. "When you lose everything, itís hard to imagine how to start over and thatís why the presence of the Red Cross and Red Crescent within communities is so important, because weíre there when disasters strike and weíre there to help them recover."

All aid agencies have launched appeals for financial assistance to help them offer basic supplies and health care.

The government of Japan has extended relief assistance to the flood and rain survivors of Sindh and Balochistan. The relief goods worth about 13 million yen were handed over Thursday by the Consul General of Japan in Karachi to the head of Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.