Thousands more are evacuated as high tides raise flood threat

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The Independent Online

Thousands more people across Pakistan were forced to move yesterday, fleeing surging flood water that threatened to engulf towns that the authorities have desperately been battling to save. Aid agencies said the country's flooded areas were now larger than any freshwater lake in the world.

In the northern part of Sindh province, officials ordered a new evacuation from the town of Shahad Kot, from which most of the 300,000 inhabitants have already left. Further downstream of the swollen Indus river, the towns of Sujawal, Daro and Mirpur Batoro – with a total population of 400,000 – were also urgently evacuated as water broke through an embankment early yesterday. "People have been asked to evacuate, but it's a very big town. People had built an artificial embankment but the pressure is increasing," the relief commissioner for Sindh, Riaz Ahmed Soomro, told Reuters.

"[Downstream] the situation is very serious. We have dispatched army personnel, helicopters and boats to the area. The priority is to evacuate people."

A month after the worst floods in Pakistan's history struck in the north-west, the surging waters are receding in some parts of the country. But because of high tides in the Arabian Sea, the Indus is not discharging its water as quickly as it might. The sea conditions are due to remain the same for the next couple of days, say meteorologists, and that, coupled with the possibility of more rain, means the threat of more flooding in southern Sindh remains a prescient danger.

Yesterday's evacuations took place as Pakistani officials were meeting with members of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, seeking for a relaxation on the terms of a $11bn loan agreed in 2008.

If the IMF agrees to ease the loan's targets, or else extend the repayment period, it would alleviate a massive financial burden for the beleaguered country. As it is, according to the UN's food agency, the floods have already damaged at least 7.9m acres, or around 14 per cent, of Pakistan's entire cultivated land at a cost of around $.2.6bn. At the same time, while donors have provided around 60 per cent of the $450m asked for by the UN for initial flood relief, officials are still seeking to appeal to other countries to swiftly make good on promises. At least 800,000 stranded people are still only accessible by air and more than five million remain homeless as a result of the floods which killed around 1,500 and affected the lives of 17m.

Neva Khan, a senior official with Oxfam, said the flooded areas of Pakistan now constitute the largest freshwater lake in the world. "[It has swallowed] up the equivalent of an area the size of Belgium, Austria and Switzerland. And it keeps spreading," she said. "Each day there is more human need, higher risk of disease – and a patently obvious case for faster and significantly greater volume of aid."

Meanwhile, both the Pakistani authorities and the US have warned that militants may try and exploit the country's vulnerability.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed the US and other countries that have pledged support are not really focused on providing aid to flood victims but had other motives which he did not specify. "No relief is reaching the affected people, and when the victims are not receiving help, then this horde of foreigners is not acceptable to us at all," Mr Tariq told The Associated Press.

He strongly hinted that the militants could resort to violence, saying "when we say something is unacceptable to us, one can draw his own conclusion."

The UN is said to be reviewing security. Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN's humanitarian affairs office, said: "In Pakistan, like many countries where the UN operates, security can be an issue. I would hope human beings would realise any attack on people trying to help would be totally inhumane."