Bad weather is preventing the relief effort from reaching hundreds of thousands of the millions of people affected by heavy flooding inPakistan.
The north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is particularly inaccessible, the United Nations said today, with up to 600,000 people marooned and rain stopping helicopters flying to some areas that are unreachable from the ground.
The devastation continued as the UN said the number of people suffering in the floods in Pakistan exceeded the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010Haiti earthquake.
While the death toll in the three earlier tragedies was much higher than the 1,500 people killed so far in the floods, the UN estimates that some 13.8 million people have been affected – at least 2 million more people than in the other disasters put together.
It made the comparison to emphasis the scale of the crisis, which the Pakistani prime minister said today was the worst in the country’s history.
“The number of people affected by the floods is greater than the other three disasters combined,” said Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs.
Giuliano said a person is considered affected by the floods if he or she will need some form of assistance to recover, either short-term humanitarian aid or longer-term reconstruction help.
“The magnitude of the tragedy is so immense that it is hard to assess,” he added.
His statement came as the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the floods were a bigger crisis than the both the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, which killed nearly 80,000 people, and the army’s operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley last spring, which drove more than 2 million people from their homes.
Rescue workers have been unable to reach up to 600,000 people marooned in the Swat valley owing to bad weather, Giuliano said, adding that many residents there were still trying to recover from last year’s fight with the Taliban.
“All these people are in very serious need of assistance, and we are highly concerned about their situation,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have also had to flee rising floodwaters in recent days in the central and southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh as heavy rains continued.
One affected resident, Manzoor Ahmed, said that although he had managed to escape the floods that submerged villages and destroyed homes in Sindh, the subsequent lack of government help meant dying might have been preferable.
“It would have been better if we had died in the floods as our current miserable life is much more painful,” said Ahmed, who fled with his family from the town of Shikarpur.
“It is very painful to see our people living without food and shelter.”
Thousands of people in the neighbouring districts of Shikarpur and Sukkur camped out on roads, bridges, railway tracks any dry ground they could find, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and perhaps a plastic sheet to keep off the rain.
“We were able to escape the floodwaters, but hunger may kill us,” said Hora Mai, 40, sitting on a rain-soaked road in Sukkur along with hundreds of other people.