Rescue teams struggle to reach 600,000 Pakistan flood victims

Record water levels were pressing down on a crucial flood barrier in Pakistan's Sindh province last night as monsoon rains showed no sign of easing – adding to the vast surge of water bearing down on towns and villages.

As officials said the amount of water coming down the Sukkur Barrage was already more than 150 per cent the maximum it was designed to withstand, the UN estimated that almost 14 million people were now feeling the impact of the floods. A UN spokesman, Maurizio Giuliano, told AP that, if so, the total affected would exceed the number hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and the quake in Haiti combined.

So far, the death toll from the floods is around 1,500, but Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, said yesterday the disaster represented a bigger crisis than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 people and the army's operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley last spring that forced two million people from their homes.

"The magnitude of the tragedy is so immense that it is hard to assess," he said, while visiting the city of Multan. "Millions of people have suffered, and still there is more rain and further losses are feared. I appeal to the world to help us. We are doing what we can. The government has done everything possible but it is beyond our capacity – we are facing an extremely difficult situation."

Such comments will do little to ease the desperation of those caught up in the disaster, increasingly furious at what many consider a lacklustre response by the authorities. In particular, President Asif Ali Zardari, who is due to return to Pakistan imminently, has faced criticism for failing to postpone a foreign visit to help grapple with the humanitarian challenge created by the country's worst floods on record.

Even now, thousands of people remain stranded. Rescue workers said yesterday that they had still been unable to reach up to 600,000 people marooned in the Swat Valley, barely 100 miles from Islamabad, where aid groups are resorting to the use of donkeys to carry supplies. It is barely 15 months since hundreds of thousands of people fled the valley as troops moved in to oust Taliban fighters who had taken control of the former tourist haven.

Bad weather has grounded helicopters, among them US military choppers being flown on humanitarian missions. Elsewhere in the north-west, hillsides denuded of tree cover as a result of over-logging have started to slip and slide, triggering mud surges that have buried several dozen people.

While the high waters have started to recede in some parts of the north-west, the area worst struck by the flooding, elsewhere the crisis is deepening. In the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated. One aid group yesterday said that half of all the emergency camps set up by the authorities had now been abandoned because waters continued to rise. "Most people are now on the road," said Rashid Javed, of Plan International. "Around 50 per cent of camps are no longer safe. People have had to evacuate in [an] emergency; now more than 80 per cent of them are living outside camps, on roadsides, high ground, wherever they can. It's extremely dangerous and distressing for all."

Amid the huge, bewildering devastation faced by so many, activists have voiced concern for some of Pakistan's rarest wildlife. With so much water flooding down the Indus, the Sindh Wildlife Department and some NGOs have warned that endangered blind Indus dolphins could slip in to canals and feeder rivers, leading to fatalities.

India has asked the Pakistani army for help after around 30 of its soldiers deployed on the Line of Control in Indian-controlled Kashmir were swept away – possibly into Pakistan-administered Kashmir – by separate flooding that has killed more than 150 people and left several hundred missing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss