Anger grows as Pakistan flood victims struggle

As the death toll approaches 1,500, rescuers struggle to help the two million affected due to inundation in country's north-west region.

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CHARSADDA, PAKISTAN // Faqir Hussain and five other political party workers sat in a busy market intersection on the Charsadda-Nowshera road yesterday staging a 24-hour hunger strike to protest against what they said was the government's indifference to those harmed by Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years.

"People are not getting any relief," Mr Hussain said on the day that the death toll approached 1,500 and the International Committee of the Red Cross put the number of people affected at up to 2.5 million. The world community did say help was on the way to Pakistan's ravaged north-west. The UN chief Ban Ki-moon, pledging US$10 million (Dh36.7m) to meet humanitarian needs, said he was deeply saddened by the flood. The US government said it would send another $10m and China promised $1.5m.

At home, as Pakistan's military and the National Disaster Management Authority co-ordinated the relief effort, officials warned that a lack of clean drinking water was helping spread diseases, including cholera. "There is a real need to make sure that people have access to clean drinking water in order to prevent water-borne diseases such as cholera from spreading," said Benoit De Gryse, the head of mission in Pakistan for Medecins Sans Frontieres.

All the aid and concern are coming too late to satisfy Mr Hussain and many others. He accused the provincial and federal governments of incompetence. "They knew the situation could get out of hand. Why did they not take any safety precautions?" he said. Hamid Khan, another hunger-camp protester, said 75 per cent of the rural area and villages of Charsadda district had been destroyed. Wali Mohammed Khan, an opposition political worker, said the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province came to Charsadda yesterday. "But people were so angry that he had to cut his visit short and return to Peshawar, the provincial capital."

In the village of Sarpal Rakhmatabad in Charsadda district, about 160km from Islamabad, 40 houses were badly damaged, half of them beyond repair. The floodwater had receded yesterday, leaving behind a trail of destruction and devastation. Streets were filled with thick mud and the stench of contaminated water filled the air. The mud walls of several houses had collapsed. Zahir Shah, 24 years old, said his family spent three days outside waiting for help.

"Water came suddenly and with a lot of force. It was chest high," Mr Shah said yesterday afternoon as he stood near a mound of mud and debris. "Look at this. It has become useless," he said while pointing towards two damp sacks of wheat. "I think I will have white hair by the time I will manage to rebuild my house. Or maybe I will never be able to," he said. Shoaib Khan, 18, another resident of the village, said initially it seemed his family's house that is on a small hill would be saved. "I joined other men to help those whose houses were getting inundated with water. Afterwards, I went to another village to help there."

He returned a few hours later and was shocked to see that water had reached his house as well. "The water was flowing like a river", Mr Khan said. "I had never seen anything like this". Maqsood Khan, who is 22 and lives in Dab Banda village, about 20km away, said he had gone to the city for work when the floods came and he returned to the village on the evening of July 30 in a private boat. "The owner charged Rs100 [Dh4.30] from each passenger. We were 35 men in total," he said. "Water entered into the house and damaged everything. We are left with nothing. We have no utensils, the bedding is wet and unusable," he said.

Back at the crossroads, Mr Hussain and his fellow hunger strikers will be replaced today by six others, as their plea for much-needed help continues. * With additional reporting from Associated Press and Agence France-Presse