Wed, Sep 08, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Floodwaters threaten Pakistani towns amid speculation of influence-peddling


River defenses in Pakistan’s flood-hit south were bolstered yesterday in a bid to save two towns from catastrophic flooding, while the UN warned the world community must help the nation recover.

Advancing floodwaters continue to threaten the towns of Johi and Dadu in Sindh Province, with 19 of its 23 districts deluged and 2.8 million people displaced, provincial authorities said.

“Armed forces and irrigation officials are racing against time to save Johi and Dadu,” provincial irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said.

He said residents had formed a human chain to help reinforce embankments securing the towns.

Meanwhile, the UN’s development chief for Asia, Assistant UN Secretary General Ajay Chhibber, said the world must respond to Pakistan’s crisis and help it rebuild to secure hearts and minds in the insurgency-wracked nation.

Global cash pledges have been slow coming to bolster rescue and relief efforts in Pakistan, where more than 21 million people have been affected by the floods. Eight million people remain reliant on aid handouts to survive.

Helping Pakistanis rebuild homes and businesses, reduced to rubble by the unprecedented deluge, will be even more important to long-term regional and global stability, Chhibber said.

An initial relief appeal has been about two-thirds funded, and Chhibbers said a second appeal would be launched on Sept. 17.

Meanwhile, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie arrived in northwest Pakistan yesterday with staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to draw world attention to the crisis.

Jolie, a roving envoy for UNHCR, visited affected communities in the northwest, the agency said.

However, a new problem is emerging — suspicions and rumors that powerful officials and landowners used their influence to divert water away from their property and inundate the villages and fields of millions of poor Pakistanis.

The claims are difficult to verify and in some cases may be exaggerated. Yet they have spread like wildfire across the waterlogged countryside. One of the risks is that Islamist militants could seize on growing anger to increase support for their war against the state.

Even before the floods, many Pakistanis harbored a deep ­mistrust toward their government and the landowning elite.

“The politicians and the rich and powerful just sacrificed the people,” said 30-year-old farmer Mohammed Yousuf, who lost his home and 11 cattle last month when floodwaters surging down the Indus River swept across Sindh Province.

Many people suspect powerful Pakistanis were able to manipulate the flow of water by influencing which levees were breached.

Outrage has been especially pronounced in northern Sindh, where hundreds of thousands of people — including Yousuf — watched floods swamp their fields and destroy their homes as the lands of Pakistani Labor Minister Khursheed Shah on the opposite side of the Indus remained dry.

Many of these flood victims are convinced Shah pushed the government to deliberately breach a levee upriver to save his property. The water that surged through the Tori Bund levee inundated dozens of villages and towns west of the river, an area that is more densely populated than the eastern side, where Shah’s lands are located.

“Khursheed Shah is a tyrant!” shouted Masood Ahmed, a 25-year-old vegetable vendor in Karampur. “He is the enemy of humanity!”

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