Pakistan scrambles to provide aid as flood casualties soar

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan scrambled to bring aid to those most in need on Tuesday as the death toll from record-breaking floods in this impoverished Islamic nation continued to mount, with no respite in sight from unprecedented monsoon rains.

The rains started early this year – mid-June – and swept away entire villages, bridges and roads, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. At one point, a third of the country’s territory was inundated with water.

Authorities said the total death toll reached 1,422 on Tuesday, with 31 more people dying in rain-related incidents this week. Experts have said climate change was blamed in large part for the deluge, the worst in recent memory.

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, warned that rains, which eased late last month only to start again this week, are expected to continue to ravage much of the country in the coming weeks.

Rehman also expressed fears that the downpours would hamper ongoing rescue and relief efforts in flood-hit areas where swirling floods from overflowing rivers, rapidly melting glaciers and flooding have already affected 33 million people.

Officials say it will take up to six months to drain the water in flood-hit areas. Waterborne diseases have already sickened thousands of people in floodplains – and now there are fears of mosquito-borne dengue fever. Mosquitoes have spread due to the stagnant waters after the flood.

“With 584,246 people in camps across the country, (the) health crisis could wreak havoc,” Rehman said in a statement.

She added that the southern port city of Karachi has so far registered an outbreak of dengue fever. Karachi is also the capital of Sindh province, one of the worst-hit regions by the floods.

The floods have also destroyed crops, including 70% of the onion crop, along with rice and corn, Rehman said. Much of the country’s agricultural belt is under water and Pakistan is in talks with several nations about importing wheat. Iran has already shipped fresh vegetables to Pakistan.

In Sindh, officials said further downpours could delay the return of about 600,000 people from the camps to their villages, towns and other urban areas.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government has started handing out money to those who have lost their homes to the floods to help them get back to life.

State media also quoted Sharif as telling his cabinet on Tuesday that despite emitting less than 1% of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, Pakistan faces widespread damage from climate-related flooding, disproportionately more than other nations.

The floods damaged 1.7 million homes, according to the National Disaster Management Agency. Thousands of pregnant women live in tents and makeshift shelters.

Pakistan originally estimated the floods caused $10 billion in damage, but authorities now say the damage is far greater. The devastation has forced the United Nations to urge the international community to send more aid.

So far, UN agencies and various countries, including the United States, have sent about 90 planeloads of relief supplies. Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres traveled to the flood-hit areas of southern and southwestern Pakistan to see first-hand the scale of the disaster.

“I request massive support from the international community as Pakistan responds to this climate catastrophe,” Guterres tweeted from Pakistan. Earlier, he called on the world to stop “sleepwalking” through the dangerous environmental crisis.

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