Choppers grounded as Pakistani flood victims face food shortages


Islamabad : Efforts to airlift aid to flood victims in northwestern Pakistan had to be halted due to bad weather Monday as tens of thousands of refugees faced food shortages.

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“Around 40 military helicopters were taking part in the rescue and relief operation but we have halted the flights because of rain,” an army spokesman said. Six US helicopters flown in from Afghanistan for the relief efforts were also grounded.

Landslides triggered by fresh rainfall blocked several roads and floods washed away more bridges in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the region worst hit by the last week’s floods that killed over 1,600 people and affected 12 million more across Pakistan.

The situation in the province’s Malakand region was deteriorating further as hundreds of villages and hamlets were isolated.

With the helicopters grounded and surging water making movement by boat difficult, the aid workers were using donkeys and mules to transport relief items.

“We are facing here a severe shortage of food items,” said Shehzad Alam, a resident of Mingora, the main town in Swat district. “Most of the food reserves are destroyed and what is left at the markets is so expensive that it is beyond the purchasing power of the ordinary man.”

“Tomatoes produced locally were available for 20 rupees ($0.25) per kg and now few shops have them, but they are selling for more than 100 rupees,” Shehzad said by phone.

“Roads are closed and grocery items do not get here from other cities. The situation is even worse in small villages where people are starving now, particularly in some parts of Shangla (district),” he added.

Dozens of people have died in new floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as the meteorological department predicted at least one more day of monsoon rain.

In the central and southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh, authorities were evacuating more people from low-lying areas along the Indus River. Some 2 million people have so far been moved to safer areas.

Water flow in the Indus has risen above 31,000 cubic meters per second, 10 times more than the normal levels.

The UN said more than 600,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in Punjab, the country’s breadbasket. Farmers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have lost Rs.35 billion worth of crops, the state-run newswire APP cited a government report as saying.

The World Food Programme warned that 4 million people would need food supplies for at least for three months.

The country requires billions of dollars for the relief and rehabilitation efforts, the UN said.

The flood disaster is going to add to Pakistan’s economic woes, already hit hard by the fight against the Taliban insurgency and political instability. Pakistani stocks were down by 2.6 percent in Monday morning trade.