PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Fears were growing Monday about outbreaks of disease among 2.5 million people affected by Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years after monsoon rains killed up to 1,500 people in the northwest.
Unprecedented rains triggered floods and landslides, sweeping away thousands of homes and devastating farmland in one of Pakistan’s most impoverished regions, already hard hit by years of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence.
Pakistani officials warn that a lack of drinking water is spreading disease, including cholera, and say they are working to medivac people from affected areas such as Swat, the scene last year of an offensive against the Taliban.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that up to 2.5 million people across Pakistan had been affected by the flooding.
“In the worst-affected areas, entire villages were washed away without warning by walls of flood water,” it said, noting that thousands of people “have lost everything.”
Aid workers and Pakistan’s military conducted what relief efforts they could as officials warned that the death toll was rising.
“There are 774 deaths registered with us, but the total number killed in the flood is 1,200 to 1,500,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for northwest province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told a news conference in Peshawar.
Later, Hussain told AFP that the floods had displaced 500,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and put the figure of people affected by the floods at more than 1.5 million.
Syed Zahir Ali Shah, health minister for the province, said about 100,000 people, mostly children, were suffering from illnesses such as gastroenteritis.
A spokesman for the charity World Vision said teams had visited those affected around the main northwestern city of Peshawar, but that those further north had been inaccessible by road.
“They don’t have drinking water or food. They said there have been some visible signs of water-borne diseases,” Muhammad Ali told AFP, warning that the death toll was likely to rise further as aid workers reached more areas.
At a camp set up by the army for around 640 families in Nowshehra, women and children ran after vehicles bringing food and water, pushing and shouting.
“We are getting patients with trauma, gastroenteritis, skin diseases and dehydration,” doctor Shoaib Mohammad told AFP at a small 20-bed mobile clinic.
Fifty-year-old Ajmair Shah went into shock after the floods destroyed his home in Nowshehra. He lay motionless in his hospital bed, staring into the air.
“My house was swept away by the flood, nothing is left there. I have lost everything,” he said and started weeping.
People at the camp said there were no proper latrines or bathrooms and that the only respite from the crushing heat was plastic hand fans. Most of them fled in the clothes they were wearing and many children roamed around naked.
“They throw food at us as if we are animals and not humans,” one man, Ilyas Khan, told AFP, complaining there was no proper system of distribution.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon pledged aid of up to 10 million dollars for those affected by the crisis, saying he was “deeply saddened” by the floods.
The US government announced a 10-million-dollar aid pledge and has rushed helicopters and boats to Pakistan. China has also promised 1.5 million dollars, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Britain also pledged five million pounds (eight million dollars) Monday to help provide safe drinking water and sanitation, and Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of condolence for victims of the floods.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Amir Haider Hoti said the floods were “unprecedented” and warned it could take up to 10 days to assess the overall number of dead and displaced.
Pakistan’s meteorological service forecast rains of up to 200 millimetres (eight inches) in the next weeks across the northwest, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the central province of Punjab and Sindh in the south.
Flood victims have condemned authorities over sluggish relief, shouting “give us aid sent by foreign countries” and “death to the corrupt government.”
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it had rescued more than 28,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter and boat.
Quoting an embassy spokeswoman, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said eight Japanese tourists had been airlifted by the Pakistani military after being stranded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for days.
The NDMA said nearly 30,000 homes had been damaged across the country.
In addition to those killed in the northwest, local officials said 53 people died in Pakistani Kashmir, 26 in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and 49 in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
The southern province of Sindh went on red alert, spokesman Mazhar Siddiqui said, fearing that 150,000 people could be displaced by expected floods there.