UN races to provide aid to Pakistan amid deadly floods as PM visits lake posing new threat
More than 1,300 people killed, millions of homes destroyed by flooding caused by unusually heavy rains
The United Nations refugee agency rushed in more desperately needed aid on Monday to flood-stricken Pakistan as the nation's prime minister travelled to the south, where rising waters of Lake Manchar pose a new threat.
Two UNHCR planes touched down in the southern port city of Karachi, and two more were expected later in the day. A third plane, with aid from Turkmenistan, also landed in Karachi. While the floods in recent weeks have touched much of Pakistan, the southern Sindh province, where Karachi is the capital, has been the most affected.
Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in Pakistan's northern mountains have brought floods that have affected 33 million people and killed at least 1,314, including 458 children, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Agency said.
In response to the unfolding disaster, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week called on the world to stop "sleepwalking" through the crisis. He plans to visit flood-hit areas on Friday.
On Sunday, engineers cut into an embankment in the sides of Lake Manchar in an effort to release rising floodwater to save the city of Sehwan and several nearby villages from possible destruction by flooding waters, which have damaged 1.6 million houses since mid-June.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was met by Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in the city of Sukkur on the swelling Indus River, from where they toured the flood-hit areas by helicopter. Murad Ali Shah, the province's chief minister, briefed Sharif about the damage caused by floods in Sindh.
Billions in damage, millions impacted
Floods have affected more than 3.3 million people in this Islamic nation of 220 million, and the devastation has caused $10 billion US in damage, according to government estimates. The provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been the most affected, and the majority of people killed have been women and children.
Last week, the United States announced $30 million US in aid for Pakistani flood victims. On Monday, two members of the U.S. Congress, Sheila Jackson Lee and Tom Suozzi, met with Pakistani officials and visited some of the stricken areas, the government said.
At a ceremony in the capital, Islamabad, Pakistani President Arif Alvi awarded the country's second-highest award to Jackson Lee, who along with Suozzi and U.S. Embassy officials met with the prime minister, according to a government statement. It said Sharif told the members of Congress that despite being one of the lowest emitters of carbon, Pakistan was facing the brunt of climate change.
The statement said Lee conveyed her "deepest sympathies" for flood victims and said Congress and the Biden administration would support Pakistan "in the wake of this colossal challenge."
'No government help has reached here'
Floodwaters were receding in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, but the situation was alarming across Sindh province. Hundreds were leaving the district of Jaffarabad after their homes were flooded.
"Our homes are right now inundated," said Khadim Khoso, 45, recounting how he waded through chest-high water. He said he and his family left their home once the floodwaters brought in the snakes.
"No government help has reached here," he said. However, authorities say they are doing their best to deliver aid to flood victims.
Pakistan's former prime minister, Imran Khan, also visited some of the flood-hit areas in Sindh on Monday, including the city of Sukkur. Last week, he drew government criticism for addressing a series of anti-government rallies at a time of a flooding emergency for Pakistan.
Afghan refugees living in Pakistan have also been affected by the floods. Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghans fleeing the violence in their country over the past four decades and currently has about 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees.
More than 420,000 Afghan refugees are estimated to be in the worst-affected areas in Pakistan, living side by side with their host communities.
Also Sunday, UNICEF delivered relief supplies, including medicines and water-purifying tablets, as part of the UN flash appeal for $160 million US to support Pakistan's flood response. UNICEF is also appealing for $37 million US for children and families.
"The floods have left children and families out in the open with no access to the basic necessities of life," said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF's representative in Pakistan.
Planes carrying aid from other countries are also expected later Monday in response to an appeal from Sharif, who has appealed to the international community to help Pakistan.
With the two UNHCR planes, 38 planes have brought in aid from other countries, including China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
Elsewhere in the region, floods are also threatening crisis-hit Sri Lanka, while rains have disrupted life in India's technology hub, Bengaluru.
With files from Reuters