Flood-hit Pakistan battles to avert overflow of biggest lake

A gauge shows the water level of Pakistan's Manchar Lake, which is threatening to overflow into nearby towns. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAMSHORO, Pakistan - Pakistan was scrambling on Tuesday to widen a breach in its biggest lake and keep the waters from overflowing amid unprecedented floods that have inundated a third of the South Asian nation, as a UN official warned of more misery in store.

As many as 33 million people have been affected, with at least 1,325 dead, including 466 children, in the floods brought by record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in Pakistan’s northern mountains, national disaster officials have said.

With yet more rain expected in the coming month, the situation could worsen still further, a top official of the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) warned.  

“We fear the situation could deteriorate,” said Ms Indrika Ratwatte, the agency’s director for Asia and the Pacific, adding that Pakistan’s weather officials forecast more rains for the coming month.  

“This will increase challenges for flood survivors, and likely worsen conditions for nearly half a million displaced people, forcing more to abandon their homes.”

A key concern is the Manchar freshwater lake in the southern province of Sindh, which is dangerously close to bursting its banks.

"We have widened the earlier breach at Manchar to reduce the rising water level," Mr Jam Khan Shoro, the irrigation minister in the southern province of Sindh, told Reuters late on Monday.

Already, 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the effort to keep the lake from overflowing, an outcome that the authorities fear could affect hundreds of thousands more.

The UNHCR is working with Pakistani authorities to step up humanitarian supplies if more people are displaced in the area, Ratwatte added, while the foreign ministry said three more UN relief flights arrived on Tuesday.

"Till yesterday, there was enormous pressure on the dikes of Johi and Mehar towns, but people are fighting it out by strengthening the dikes," district official Murtaza Shah said Tuesday, adding that 80 per cent to 90 per cent of those affected had already fled.

Those who remain are attempting to strengthen existing dikes with machinery provided by district officials.

The waters have turned the nearby town of Johi into a virtual island, as a dike built by locals holds back the water.

"After the breach at Manchar, the water has started to flow. Earlier, it was sort of stagnant," one resident, Mr Akbar Lashari, said by telephone, following Sunday's initial breach of the freshwater lake.

The rising waters have also inundated the nearby Sehwan airport, civil aviation authorities said.

The floods have followed record-breaking summer heat, with the government and the United Nations both blaming climate change for the extreme weather and the resulting devastation.

Pakistani authorities restored power on Tuesday to towns and cities along the Afghan border, where hundreds of thousands of people have struggled without electricity for weeks. REUTERS

Find out more about climate change and how it could affect you on the ST microsite here.