PAKISTAN, August 17, 2010 - Displacing over 20 million people, flash floods triggered by torrential rains have taken the lives of 1,600 people, according to officlals. The UN says Pakistan's devastating floods have affected more people than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and this year's Haiti earthquake, combined, creating the region's worst flooding in living memory.
In a recent visit to the flood-affected areas, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon described the destruction he witnessed as "heart-wrenching," saying the scale of the disaster was greater than anything he had seen before, urging all nations across the globe to speed up the aid to the country, where shelter and medicine are desperately needed.
Asia Society Associate Fellow Ayesha Haroon said, "Even as Pakistan's government, international aid agencies, political parties, and ordinary citizens rush to the aid of the affected, the scale of devastation across the length and breadth of the country is unimaginably huge."
In the Swat Valley, where reconstruction had been underway after a major military operation against the Taliban during 2009, surging waters have brought down bridges and left entire communities cut off. The spread of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea among survivors has become a growing concern. Renewed rain on Tuesday, August 3 slowed the relief effort by both local and international rescue efforts, amid steadily rising criticism of the government's response. Officials are coming to grips as more rain is forecasted for the rest of the week.
Speaking from Islamabad, Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Hassan Abbas commented, "Natural disasters are indeed unpredictable but in this case there were warnings ahead of time and the Pakistani state failed to prepare in time .... This is a very critical test for Pakistan, as it is facing crisis after crisis and international help is desperately needed. Based on interviews on the ground, I believe distressed people are losing hope in the state's capacity to do anything meaningful for them. Anyone who will provide them any solace and basic support will win their hearts and sympathy."
Haroon sounded a similar note. "In just one province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, more than a thousand people, 65 bridges, dozens of villages, standing crops and roads have been swept away by the raging waters.
"With local livelihoods, crops, roads, bridges, rail tracks and houses destroyed across a major swathe of Pakistan, the cost of rescue and rehabilitation will be astronomical for the federal and provincial governments-continuously being pressured by the West to 'do more' in the war on terror ... The worry is that if there is no concerted effort by the national and international agencies to effectively rehabilitate the flood affectees, lack of credibility in the government becomes more entrenched and issues of parochialism, ethnicity, and nationalism will come to the forefront in the public discourse again."
How to Help
Information on relief efforts can be found at www.state.gov/pakistanflooding. Community members interested in giving immediate assistance can text the word "SWAT" to 50555 to contribute $10 to UNHCR's life-saving flood relief efforts on the ground.