More people are suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan than were directly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake and this year's Haiti earthquake, the United Nations said yesterday. The death toll in each of those three disasters was much higher than the 1,500 people killed so far in the floods that first hit Pakistan two weeks ago. But the UN estimates that 13.8 million people have been affected: at least two million more than the other disasters combined.
Meanwhile, rescuers in China and Indian-controlled Kashmir scrambled to help thousands of people injured or stranded by flooding that has spread across Asia. In China, rescuers dug through mud and wreckage yesterday searching for 1,300 people missing after flash floods and landslides struck its north-west. "If the toll is as high as the one given by the government, it's higher than the three of them combined," said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The number affected in the three other large disasters is about 11 million: five million in the tsunami and three million in each of the earthquakes, Mr Giuliano said. In the UAE yesterday, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the widow of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation, contributed Dh5 million to help victims of the Pakistan floods.
Many of the people affected were in the country's north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Rescue workers have been unable to reach up to one million people marooned in the country, including 600,000 in the province's Swat Valley. In the valley, many residents were still trying to recover from fighting between the army and the Taliban, Mr Giuliano said. Bad weather has prevented helicopters from flying to the area, which is inaccessible by ground, he said. "All these people are in very serious need of assistance, and we are highly concerned about their situation," Mr Giuliano said.
Hundreds of thousands of people also have fled rising floodwaters in the central and southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said the government had been overwhelmed. "Whatever we can do within our resources, we are doing and will continue to do so. However, the loss is far too stupendous," he said, according to the official Associated Press of Pakistan.
Pakistani authorities have been slow to respond, often because officials who fled floods and have been absent, residents and local journalists in the northern district of Charsadda and central district of Muzaffargarh said. A spokesman for the UN World Food Programme said it would cost nearly US$100million (Dh367.3m) to feed the people who will need assistance over the next three months. The programme has so far distributed a month's worth of food supplies to some 273,000 people, the first notable success of the relief effort since flooding inundated northern Pakistan on July 27.
Officials of the National Disaster Management Authority said efforts to reach stranded populations have been stymied by new monsoon systems. The latest settled over Pakistan yesterday. Thousands of people in the districts of Shikarpur and Sukkur camped out on roads, bridges and railway tracks - any dry ground they could find - often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. "I have no food for my children. I have no money," said Hora Mai, 40, sitting on a rain-soaked road in Sukkur along with hundreds of other people. "We were able to escape the floodwaters, but hunger may kill us."
Rescue efforts continued yesterday after mudslides devastated parts of north-west China, killing 337 and leaving at least 1,148 missing. Controlled explosions were carried out to relieve pressure at a blockage in the Bailong River upstream from parts of Gansu province deluged after a Saturday downpour. The blockage had formed a 3km long artificial lake that overflowed, sending deadly torrents crashing down onto the town. Many rescuers were using little more than shovels and hoes, Reuters reported, as relatives of those missing walked into the affected area hoping to find loved ones.
More than 90 millimetres of rain fell on Saturday, causing mudslides that overwhelmed several villages in Gansu's remote Zhouqu County. "A lot of people are crying and you see corpses on the ground," Cui Longbing, a 40-year-old resident, told Reuters. Vehicles carrying aid supplies choked the road yesterday over bare, eroded mountains into the remote county seat of Zhouqu. Bodies wrapped in blankets were collected and laid on truck beds.
"There were some, but very few, survivors," said survivor Guo Wentao. More rain is expected, the China Meteorological Administration said. While at least 1,240 had been rescued, the thick layer of sludge covering the area meant those still missing were unlikely to be found alive. At least 45,000 people have been evacuated. Before the latest floods, this year was already the worst in a decade for flooding deaths in China. The Civil Affairs Ministry said 1,454 had died in flood-related incidents, 669 were missing, 1.4 million homes destroyed and more than 12 million people evacuated.
Poles, Czechs and Germans struggled yesterday to clean up homes and towns badly damaged by weekend flooding. Even though waters have receded, the swollen rivers pushed northward, and other towns and villages braced for possible high waters. The floods have killed at least 11 people. One of the worst-hit places was the south-western Polish town of Bogatynia, on the border with the Czech Republic. The all-news station TVN24 aired images yesterday showing the town strewn with rubble. Roads were broken, and many homes suffered massive damage. A bridge in the town was badly damaged; soldiers set up a temporary crossing to bring in food and other supplies.
Relief workers stepped up rescue operations yesterday in the mountainous Ladakh region as the death toll climbed to about 150 people. More than 500 people are feared missing and about 10,000 people have been displaced.
The dead included five foreigners, but their nationalities were not immediately known. Thousands of army, police and paramilitary soldiers continued clearing roads to reach isolated villages in the Ladakh region. Indian air force helicopters yesterday evacuated 36 stranded foreign tourists from Zanskar, a popular trekking area. Another 100 foreigners are likely to be flown out later. About 2,000 foreign tourists were in Ladakh, a popular destination for adventure sports enthusiasts, when the storm hit Friday.
* Tom Hussain reported from Islamabad, Daniel Bardsley reported from Beijing and Anuj Chopra reported from Mumbai. With additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters