Death toll rises and evacuations continue as floods worsen in Pakistan

Published: 10 September 2014 15:00 CET

By Majda Shabbir, IFRC

For the fifth consecutive year,  Pakistan is reeling from the impact of severe monsoon flooding. More than 250 people have died and close to 600,000 have been affected by the floods which began in early September. This year, the worst hit area is Punjab province - the country’s food basket, followed by the states of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan province in the northeast of the country.

A total of 1,457 villages across these areas are affected, according to latest figures released by the National Disaster Management Authority. Torrential downpours in Punjab have caused serious urban flooding which has affected the two major cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi in Punjab. Flood levels in river systems are still peaking and recent breaches of earthen dykes and embankments along the swollen Jhelum and Chenab rivers have led to the inundation of hundreds of villages and thousands of acres of cropland.

The authorities have set up temporary relief camps in Punjab as evacuation efforts continue for thousands who remain at risk. Most of the deaths and injuries have been caused by collapsed roofs and electrocution resulting from downed power lines. Apart from human casualties, there have also been extensive losses to property, cattle and crops. A complete picture of the devastation will only be clear once the waters recede.

“Life was already mserable for us and now the flood has washed away what little we had - beddings, clothing, even my childrens’ schoolbooks. We have been left empty handed,” said Nosheen, a mother of four, in Sheikh Basti, District Bagh in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

Nosheen’s husband, Liaqat, is a sanitary worker, who earns less than $100 a month. She and her family have temporarily settled at a safer place along with others within the community of sanitary workers. The community is particularly vulnerable, as it is socially neglected due to their vocation. They have been provided with emergency shelters and relief items by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS).

In its initial response to the floods, the Red Crescent has provided relief support to 1,000 people in Punjab and AJK. In the coming weeks it plans to reach a further 35,000 with food, emergency shelter, emergency health services and household items such as kitchen sets, hygiene kits and blankets.

Sheikh Abdul Hameed, Chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent’s AJK Branch, witnessed the terrible devastation and human suffering caused by flash floods and landslides in the region. “I met a pregnant women running for safety with her small child who was crying because he had lost his favourite book to the floodwaters”.

Hameed is particularly concerned about the health of survivors, particularly pregnant women. Red Crescent assessment teams are prioritising how the needs of such vulnerable groups will be addressed including the elderly and female-headed households. They have reported the main humanitarian needs to be food, emergency shelter, safe water, sanitation and health care in most of the affected areas.

The flood waters are anticipated to reach Sindh Province in the coming days, as a result of swollen rivers – these include the four major rivers of Sutlej, Ravi, Jhelum and Chenab. Disaster preparedness measures including early warnings and evacuations are underway in Sindh, as authorities brace themselves.