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Pakistanis use stones, sandbags to fight floods

Workers placed sandbags and stones to strengthen river levees in flood-ravaged Pakistan's south as the rising water threatened new areas Sunday.
/ Source: news services

Workers placed sandbags and stones to strengthen river levees in flood-ravaged Pakistan's south as the rising water threatened new areas Sunday.

Three towns in the Thatta district were in danger, and officials began evacuating around 150,000 people from lower lying areas Saturday. The surge in the Indus River is expected to empty into the Arabian Sea after passing through.

At least two levees along the river are potential trouble spots and are being strengthened, said Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro, an official with the Sindh province Disaster Management Authority.

"We are hopeful the flood will pass on to the delta without creating much trouble here," he said.

Officials expect the floodwaters will recede nationwide in the next few days as the last river torrents empty into the Arabian Sea, state news agency APP reported.

But when that happens, millions of Pakistanis will almost certainly want the government, which was already constrained by a fragile economy before the flood, to quickly deliver homes and compensation for the loss of livestock and crops.

The government has been accused of moving too slowly and Islamist charities, some with suspected links to militant groups, have moved rapidly to provide relief to Pakistanis, already frustrated with their leaders' track record on the economy, security, poverty and by chronic power shortages.

"My village has been inundated. We traveled several hours in a bullcart and now the dispensary is locked," said Shazia Bibi, standing outside a government health centre in Punjab province.

"Where can I take my husband? He cannot sleep because of pain. Whatever he eats he vomits it."

Some were grateful for help from Islamist charities.

"We use to think they were terrorists but that's not right. They were first who came to help us," said Hidayatullah Bokhari, a 45-year-old farmer. "We don't want them to become our rulers but they're not bad guys."

One-fifth of country deluged
The floods began in late July in the northwest after exceptionally heavy monsoon rains, expanding rivers that have since swamped eastern Punjab province and Sindh province in the south.

The deluge has affected about one-fifth of Pakistan's territory, straining the civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaida and Taliban violence. At least 6 million people have been made homeless and 20 million affected overall.

The United Nations has appealed for $460 million in emergency assistance, and expects to achieve that goal as the scope and scale of the disaster has become more apparent. The U.S. has promised $150 million.

Pakistan can ill-afford the crisis. Its economy was already being kept afloat by billions in loans from the International Monetary Fund, and the cost of rebuilding after the floods will likely run into the billions.

The IMF said it would meet with Pakistani officials this week to discuss the floods and what the country must do to cope.

"The IMF stands with Pakistan at this difficult time and will do its part to help the country," said the IMF's Masood Ahmed, director of the Middle East and Central Asia department.