Pakistan flood victims face food shortages

Desperate survivors crush into relief centres as officials fear a food crisis could compound the humanitarian disaster.

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Desperate survivors crushed into relief centres today after Pakistan's worst floods in living memory as officials feared a food crisis could compound the humanitarian disaster. With more than three million people affected by the flooding, the Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told his cabinet to speed up relief work and estimate damages likely to present a headache for a cash-strapped government. Record rains last week triggered floods and landslides that washed away entire villages and ruined farmland in one of the country's most impoverished and volatile regions, already hard hit by Taliban and al Qa'eda-linked violence.

The international community has mobilised with offers of aid after the flooding that aid workers say has killed 1,500 people and affected 3.2 million, including 1.4 million children, according to UN and Pakistani figures. "We see urgent need of food assistance to people affected by floods to prevent a starvation-like situation," said Amjad Jamal, spokesman for the UN World Food Programme. "Eight per cent of food reserves have been destroyed by the floods, which also caused massive damage to livestock, markets, roads and overall infrastructure.

"People need assistance immediately. The WFP wants to quickly deliver food supplies. We can avert a big crisis with immediate response," he said. Anger was at boiling point among impoverished survivors complaining they had been abandoned by the government after their livelihoods were swept away and protesting at a "joy ride" visit to Europe by president Asif Ali Zardari. About 2,000 people, including women in burqas, who thronged the home of a local politician to receive food items in Shah Alam village near Charsadda said they had received no assistance from the government, only from local families.

Falak Naz, 28 was visibly shaken. "I am totally helpless now. I built a small house with a lot of effort. It is destroyed. How will I repair it? Will there be any government help? These questions keep haunting my mind," he said. Pakistan has issued new flood warnings as the rains spread, threatening to compound the misery of hundreds of thousands of victims. Many have fled, their belongings piled into donkey carts and cars, or taken refuge in mosques.

"We are facing severe shortages of food and medicine. People need food, they need medicine. We fear they will be die from hunger if not provided on time," information minister in the northwest, Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters. The United Nations said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed to stop disease spreading after Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years following relentless monsoon rains.