1,100 killed in Pakistan floods; gov't management blastedThousands of soldiers and civilian rescue workers were deployed to save an estimated 28,000 people trapped by the floodwaters, distribute food and collect the bodies
By Chris Brummitt
The Associated Press
KAMP KOROONA, Pakistan — As Monday dawned, Faisal Islam sat on a highway median in northwestern Pakistan — the only dry ground he could find — and railed against the government for its failure to provide aid nearly a week after the country's worst-ever floods first hit.
The government has deployed thousands of soldiers and civilian rescue workers to save an estimated 28,000 people trapped by the floodwaters, distribute food and collect the bodies of the up to 1,100 killed so far.
But the scale of the disaster is so vast that many residents say it seems like officials are doing nothing. That anger poses a danger to the already struggling government, now competing with Islamist movements to deliver aid in a region with strong Taliban influence.
"This is the only shirt I have. Everything else is buried," said Islam, surrounded by hundreds of people in makeshift shelters constructed from dirty sheets and plastic tarps.
Like many other residents of Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province, the people camped out by the highway in Kamp Koroona village in Nowshera district — one of the areas hit hardest by the floods — waded through the water to their damaged houses to salvage their remaining possessions: usually just a few mud-covered plates and chairs.
The army has given them some cooking oil and sugar, but Islam complained that they needed much more.
"We need tents. Just look around," said Islam.
The disastrous flooding comes at a time when the weak and unpopular Pakistani government is already struggling to cope with a faltering economy and a brutal war against Taliban militants that has killed thousands of people in the past few years.
The death toll from the disaster has ranged from about 870 provided by the prime minister's office to 1,100 given by disaster management officials in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa who warned that it could go even higher.
Pakistan's international partners have tried to bolster the government's response by offering millions of dollars in emergency aid.
The United Nations and the United States announced Saturday that they would provide $10 million dollars each in emergency assistance. The U.S. has also provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that Pakistani soldiers tossed from helicopters as flood victims scrambled to catch them.
The high-profile U.S. gesture of support comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to dampen anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and enlist the country's support to turn around the Afghan war.
"The Pakistani people are friends and partners, and the United States is standing with them as the tragic human toll mounts from flooding in northwest Pakistan," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a statement.
The U.S. provided similar emergency assistance after Pakistan experienced a catastrophic earthquake in 2005 that killed nearly 80,000 people. The aid briefly increased support for the U.S. in a country where anti-American sentiment is pervasive.
But feelings have since shifted, and only 17 percent of Pakistanis now have a favorable view of the U.S., according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Conducted in April 2010, the survey has a margin of error of three percentage points.
The U.S. could be hoping to get a similar popularity boost from the emergency flood assistance. But like the earthquake relief effort, the U.S. must compete with aid groups run by Islamist militants who also use assistance to increase their support.
Representatives from a charity allegedly linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group distributed food and offered medical services on Sunday to victims in the town of Charsada.
"We are reaching people at their doorsteps and in the streets, especially women and children who are stuck in their homes," said an activist with the Falah-e-Insaniat charity who would identify himself only by his first name, Saqib.
With suspected ties to al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the U.S. military has said the group has stepped up activity in Afghanistan as well.
Pakistani militant groups often rail against government ineffectiveness as a way to build support, a message likely to resonate with many in the northwest who have criticized the official flood response.
The U.N. has estimated that 1 million people nationwide have been affected by the floods, and Pakistani officials have said that at least 500,000 have been displaced from their homes in the northwest.
The military has deployed at least 30,000 army troops who helped rescue more than 28,000 people, said the national government.
But thousands of people in the province remained trapped Sunday and authorities said 43 military helicopters and 100 boats had been deployed to try to save them.
The impact of the floods could be especially difficult in the Swat Valley, where residents were still trying to recover from a major battle between Taliban militants and the army last spring that caused widespread destruction and drove nearly 2 million people from their homes.
The floods decimated many villages in Swat, destroying people's houses, shops, vehicles and crops. Residents have received no assistance from the government, and those who haven't been able to flee by boat are running out of food, said Fazal Maula, a resident of Imam Dheri village.
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