South Asia

Pakistan floods still claiming lives, six months on

Six months after the worst floods in the history of Pakistan, aid agencies say millions are still in dire need of assistance, and there are new warnings about malnutrition in the worst-hit province, Sindh. But money donated to the prime minister's relief fund has still not been spent. The BBC's Orla Guerin reports.

The raging torrent that pulverised, devoured and buried so much is, for the most part, a thing of memory. But its impact remains in broken bridges, mud-encrusted fields and devastated communities.

At least 18 million people were affected by the floods. The United Nations says most have returned home to destroyed houses. Six months on, countless numbers don't even have tents.

In Sindh, some are still hostages of the flood. Stagnant, contaminated flood waters remain in some areas, like a stain on the landscape.

'Too many problems'

We travelled, on a decrepit boat, to reach a community of about 5,000 marooned on an embankment. The floods consumed their village, Khan Mohammed Mallah. Now they have only straw huts for shelter.

"Our lives are totally shattered," said Ghulam Nabi, the local schoolteacher. "We've lost our homes, we have no transport and no communications. There are too many problems."

Women in brightly-coloured headscarves, with worried faces, crowded around a medical team from the UN children's fund, Unicef. The women had brought their children to be checked for signs of an old menace - malnutrition.

A tiny baby called Malika was placed on the scales. At 18 months old, she weighed little more than a healthy newborn, and looked drained of life. Malika was one of 10 severely malnourished children in this village alone. She and her mother were taken to hospital.

Unicef is ringing alarm bells about a malnutrition crisis of epic proportions in Sindh. New figures show that one in five flood-affected children are malnourished. Unicef says the figures are "shockingly bad" and reminiscent of famines in sub-Saharan Africa.

Image caption Many children are severely malnourished

But in spite of the desperate needs across the country, $77m (£47m; 6.5bn rupees) accumulated in the fund established by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani remains unspent. In a BBC interview he admitted it should have been allocated sooner.

"Yes it should have been disbursed quicker," Mr Gilani told me. "But we are waiting for our assessment. We have to have specific projects. They are already making the feasibility reports, and very soon I'll decide."

'We need blankets...'

But many need emergency assistance now, more than reconstruction projects in the future. Some are still waiting for blankets.

Muhammed Iqbal Memon finds that hard to understand. He is the most senior civilian official in the district of Dadu, where more houses were destroyed than in the Aceh earthquake in 2004.

"Everyone knows what we need," he says. "We have given lists in writing. We've been talking and talking. The people must be frustrated. They are asking for clothes and blankets, and I am saddened when I don't have them to give."

Mr Memon needs 500,000 blankets. So far the government has given him only 13,000, and the international community about half that.

We joined him as he handed out blankets and winter clothing in one small camp. At first there were orderly queues - women on one side, men on the other. But when the aid ran out, chaos erupted. There were fistfights, and frenzied tug-of-wars.

Image caption This fight broke out after blankets ran out at a camp for the displaced

With too little aid to go round, Mr Memon has to decide who gets help, and who doesn't. He admits that representatives from the ruling PPP party have a say. "We complement each other," he said, stressing that opposition politicians and other stakeholders are also consulted.

... and food

A few hours drive away, the people of Khan Jo Ghot believe they are victims of both the flood and the ruling party. Their village is a broken jigsaw of rubble and bricks, with only a handful of buildings left standing.

"We have a firm belief that we are not getting aid because we support the opposition," said Adbul Majid, the local teacher.

Image caption People in Sindh need emergency assistance - now

The villagers say there's been only one food distribution since the flood. It was two months ago, and it was just enough for 50 families for 10 days.

"We received only 100 blankets," said Zulfiqar Ali, a tall, bearded man who guided us around the village. "But there are 350 families living here. We were told we would get more but nothing came."

Before the flood, the villagers were rice farmers. Now they survive by selling whatever they can salvage from their homes, and by borrowing.

Most people are under canvas - living, and in some cases dying, in tents. The villagers say there have been nine deaths this winter. They blame the rough conditions, and the cold.

Dreams dead

A grieving father and mother, Husna and Ali Akbar, sit on a traditional rope bed in front of their flimsy hut, with five children gathered around them. There used to be six.

On the first day of the new year, they lost their daughter Salma. They say she went blue with the cold and died a few hours later.

"I wish I could ask the earth to give my child back," Husna says. "We are poor. We eat only once a day. Our happiness comes from our children." Then she covers her face with her scarf, and weeps. Through her tears she tells us she is worried for the lives of her other children.

Salma was six years old, and dreamt of being a doctor. She lies buried a short distance away, in the shade of a tree.

Somehow her parents are supposed to rebuild their lives, but like many of Pakistan's flood victims, they fear they've been forgotten.

They wonder how they'll survive the coming months, and the next monsoon season, which begins in July.

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