Pakistani Muslims took part in low-key celebrations today for the Eid al Fitr festival, as millions still languished without shelter after the nation's worst-ever floods. Eid is the most important festival in the Islamic calendar - marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan - but celebrations were muted as the fallout from devastating floods continued. The deluges have left 10 million people without shelter nationwide, according to UN figures, with UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano describing it as "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in UN history."
Some 21 million people have been affected by the floods, which began more than six weeks ago and have dragged on through Ramadan, with more than eight million reliant on aid handouts for survival. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani mentioned the flood victims in their separate Eid messages to nation. "We cannot celebrate the day with traditional fanfare and festivities when millions of our countrymen have been rendered shelterless as villages, towns and cities have been destroyed by the floods," Mr Zardari said.
He said: "We bow our heads in gratitude to Allah on this day for blessing us with the bounties of the holy month of Ramadan." "For the Muslims it is a thanksgiving day and I wish to greet all Muslims of the world on this occasion." In his message, Prime Minister Gilani said: "This year's Eid festival is being celebrated on such a moment of history, when a large part of country is under the devastation caused by pre-Ramadan floods."
"Millions of fellow countrymen are homeless and facing severe difficulties." He said the nation had pullled together to lessen the hardship faced by the flood victims. "No doubt, brave nations face the challenges with courage and mettle," he said. State-run Pakistan Television showed footage of Prime Minister Gilani's visiting flood-affected areas and camps in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces. Mr Gilani met with people including women and children in the camps and distributed Eid gifts and sweets among them.
Fresh rains have hampered rescue efforts in Sindh as thousands of people trying to leave flood-threatened towns remained stranded, with forecasters saying there will be more rain over the next 24 hours. Near the flood-hit town of Sujawal, most of the flood victims spent Eid sitting under the open sky still without shelter, food or clothes. "It looks like a nightmare as I have no shelter ... I don't have money or enough food to feed my grandchildren on this day of Eid, which used to bring joys for us in the past," Hakima Malah, a resident of the Sindh town told AFP.
Malah, 60, said the weather was again menacing her family and others camped out without shelter. "It rained through the night yesterday and we had to stay in open as we do not even have tents." Thirty-year-old Mithi was also visibly upset at not getting food and new clothes for her family on Eid. "I have five children and all of them wear old clothes even on the Eid day today", she said, adding that "We are getting meals once a day with no help coming from the government".
The floods inundated vast swathes of Pakistan and killed 1,760 people but disaster officials have said the number of deaths is likely to rise "significantly" when the missing are accounted for. Global cash pledges have been slow to emerge to bolster rescue and relief efforts and the UN warned it could impede relief operations as Pakistan faces a triple threat to food supplies -- with seeds, crops and incomes hit.
Advancing floodwaters continue to threaten parts of Sindh province, with 19 of its 23 districts deluged and 2.8 million people displaced, according to provincial authorities. * AFP