Pakistan floods: Army defends rescue operation

BBC's Lyse Doucet: "The world they knew is gone"

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The operation to rescue communities cut off by devastating floods in Pakistan is "almost complete", the army says.

Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC the mission had been hampered by the weather, rejecting criticism that the authorities had been slow to respond.

But aid groups say that many people are still cut off and desperate for help.

Some 1,400 people have died and aid agencies say three million people have been affected by Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years.

Forecasters say more rain and flooding is likely over the next few days.

Renewed rain on Tuesday slowed the relief effort, and the government's perceived inaction has led to protests in some areas over the past few days.

But Maj Gen Abbas said 50,000 troops had been drafted in to help in the rescue operation - and had even given out their own rations to villagers.

"In Malakand [one of the worst affected areas] not a single bridge is intact, the complete communication infrastructure has been destroyed, and therefore there have been areas which have got isolated and aid reached quite late," he said.

At the scene

It is astonishing how much of Pakistan is affected by this crisis. I am in a village which was entirely swept away. I am with surviving villagers camped by railroad tracks on high ground, with water on both sides.

There are horrific tales of how the waters came and how powerful they were. A survivor, Omar Khan, tells me how it rained and suddenly his family were up to their waists in water. There was a strong current. They rushed to save family members, but one woman was carried away, her body found two days later.

Omar says the only help he has received has been from surrounding villages. We're constantly told that aid is being mobilised, but when you think of the number of people affected - over three million - of course a lot of people are going to fall through the gaps.

"But the rescue operation has almost been completed. Now it is basically relief - a lot of relief camps have come up, the medical aid is there and the soldiers have given their own rations out."

However, other Pakistan army officials said there were still areas that had not been reached.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in north-west Pakistan says aid agencies warn that hundreds of thousands are still cut off and waiting for help.

The United Nations said around 980,000 people had lost their homes or had been forced to flee, and the UN World Food Programme said some 1.8 million needed food aid.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Islamabad says such flooding would have been a challenge in any country, but it is a growing crisis for a country like Pakistan, already suffering economic woes and a Taliban insurgency.

The return of monsoon rains on Tuesday grounded helicopters and raised fears of renewed flooding.

The Associated Press reported that several villages in Punjab province, hundreds of miles south of Malakand, had been deluged by floodwater on Tuesday.

The latest weather situation in Pakistan and the forecast ahead

"We just ran away with our children, leaving behind everything," Fateh Mohammad, a resident of the Kot Addu area, told AP.

Pakistani forecasters said there could be more flash floods in the devastated north-west, and warned that heavy rainfall would also hit other parts of the country in the coming days.

Aid agencies say the risk of waterborne diseases spreading will remain high until the floodwaters fully recede. Officials said there were reports of cholera emerging in the Swat Valley.

Governments around the world have pledged millions of dollars in aid, but there has been no decision yet on whether to launch a global appeal.

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