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Millions struggle as rains deluge southern Asia

14 August 2015


Half-submerged: a family looks out from their flooded home in Zalun township, Ayeyarwaddy delta, Myanmar

Half-submerged: a family looks out from their flooded home in Zalun township, Ayeyarwaddy delta, Myanmar

AID agencies are struggling to reach trapped villagers in remote areas of Pakistan, after dozens of roads and suspension bridges were swept away by heavy floods last week.

At least 170 people have died, and more than one million have been affected, after torrential monsoon rains caused rivers to overrun and trigger landslides, devastating entire villages.

Christian Aid, which has donated £50,000 to the relief effort, says that logistics are part of the problem. “The river embankments on which many thousands of families are stranded are so narrow that it is difficult to move vehicles around to get help to them,” a spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Christian Aid received a further £158,000 from the multi-donor Start Fund, to provide water and shelter to the worst-hit areas.

Flash floods in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northernmost province, cut off at least three valleys, forcing many to the rooftops to await rescue boats. Christian Aid partners, including the Act Alliance, a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organisations, are distributing a month’s food supply to 5000 of the families most in need.

“Wheat-flour, rice, lentils, cooking oil, sugar, tea, matches — even a small intervention now can make a big difference,” Christian Aid’s spokesman said.

Many families also suffered in the 2010 floods, which affected about 18 million people in Pakistan who were still recovering.

Christian Aid’s emergency programme manager for Pakistan, Neill Garvie, said last week that the “situation will worsen” as people remain stranded in flooded areas. “The priority is fresh water, emergency shelter, food and medical supplies,” he said.

In Punjab, at least 244 villages have been flooded, the worst of the devastation occurring on Thursday of last week. More heavy rains are expected.

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has opened a recovery fund in response to the floods in Punjab. The chairman of BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, said: “These floods have a five-year history, and yet the government still refuses to put adequate investment into infrastructure such as a dam, canal improvements, and flood buffers that could reduce the impact and save lives.

“Muslim charities have an evident abhorrence to helping Christians unless they commit to converting. . . So our vulnerable community will be ignored in preference of more ‘valuable’ Muslims.”

Dozens have also perished, and millions more have been affected, in Nepal and Vietnam. India, which receives 80 per cent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon between June and September, has been badly affected, and more than 100 have died.

Last week, Christian Aid donated £50,000 to Myanmar, on the border of Bangladesh. The country has declared a state of emergency, and is appealing for international aid.

One hundred people are reported to have been killed, and more than 259,000, including 88,000 children, have been affected since the onset of the rains in June.

Cyclone Komen, which swept through the Bay of Bengal last month without warning, added to the devastation. Chin State and Sagaing and Magway regions have been declared disaster zones.

Tearfund, which is providing 4700 Myanmar churches with food and clean water, expects more flooding in the coming days. The charity’s head of humanitarian response, Oenone Chadburn, said that the rains have “wreaked havoc” for millions.

“With the increased risk of more frequent and extreme weather due to climate change, it is vital governments and agencies work together to become more resilient and prepared to face natural disasters.”

The head of humanitarian programmes for the Roman Catholic aid agency CAFOD, Giovanna Reda, said: “There have already been reports of diarrhoea, skin diseases, and eye infections. If we don’t act now, there is a major risk of a public health epidemic.”

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