Flash floods kill 43 in northern Pakistan: Officials

PESHAWAR (AFP) - Flash floods caused by overnight monsoon rains have killed at least 43 people in northern Pakistan, the majority from a village near the border with Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday (July 3), as supplies were airlifted to survivors.

The rains began late on Saturday and were concentrated mainly in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has been badly affected by flooding in recent years that some scientists have linked to climate change.

The worst-hit district was Chitral, on the country's north-west border, where flood waters swept away a mosque, dozens of houses and an army post in the remote village of Ursoon, district mayor Maghfirat Shah told AFP.

Forty-one people were killed in the village, and at least eight of the dead are thought to be soldiers.

Latifur Rehman, a spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority, said: "Sixteen of the dead were offering prayers in the mosque when it was swept away by the flood."

He added that a military-led rescue and relief operation was now underway, with helicopters being used to reach the affected people and provide them with food and medicines.

A statement issued by the government said 82 houses were affected by the waters, and efforts were underway to provide food and relief items to the villagers.

Another senior local official, Osama Waraich, said that the bodies of eight of the victims from Ursoon had been found on the Afghan side of the border.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office meanwhile issued a statement expressing his grief and sorrow.

Separately, two Chinese engineers were killed and five Pakistani workers injured when the heavy rains caused the roof of a construction site to collapse at Tarbela Dam, Rehman said.

In April, rains and landslides killed 127 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Gilgit-Baltistan region and Pakistani Kashmir.

Poorly built homes across the country, particularly in rural areas, are susceptible to collapse during the annual spring and monsoon rains in July-August, which are often heavy.

Severe weather in recent years has killed hundreds and destroyed huge tracts of prime farmland.

During the rainy season last summer, torrential downpours and flooding killed 81 people and affected almost 300,000 across the country.

The worst flooding in recent times occurred in 2010 and covered almost a fifth of the country's total land mass. Nearly 2,000 people were killed and 20 million affected.

Rapid deforestation brought about by decades of illegal logging in the country's north and the growth of farming along the river Indus in the south is believed by experts to have exacerbated the effects of the annual floods.

Energy-starved Pakistan relies on a multitude of dams and barrages to prevent Himalayan rivers from flooding and help meet its power needs, but some academics believe the slowing of rivers due to the structures mean that silt accumulates, decreasing their capacity.

A research paper commissioned by conservation group WWF and published in 2000 looked at various countries, and warned of similar consequences. It noted the drainage of wetlands as well as deforestation associated with dams led to a loss of natural "sponges" to absorb flood waters during rainy season.