Pakistan's south braces for deluge from swollen northern rivers

The Indus River is in high flood, authorities said, as glaciers melt and other tributaries burst their banks. PHOTO: AFP

SUKKUR, Pakistan (AFP, REUTERS) - Pakistan's flooded southern Sindh province braced on Sunday (Aug 28) for a fresh deluge from swollen rivers in the north as the death toll from this year's monsoon topped 1,000.

The mighty Indus River that courses through Pakistan's second-most populous region is fed by dozens of mountain tributaries to the north.

But many have burst their banks following record rains and glacier melt.

Officials warned torrents of water are expected to reach Sindh in the next few days, adding misery to millions already affected by the floods.

"Right now, Indus is in high flood," said Mr Aziz Soomro, the supervisor of Sukkur Barrage - a massive colonial-era construction that regulates the river's flow and redirects water to a vast system of canals.

The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but it also brings destruction.

Officials say this year's monsoon flooding has affected more than 33 million people - one in seven Pakistanis - destroying or badly damaging nearly a million homes.

On Sunday, the country's National Disaster Management Authority said the death toll from the monsoon rains had reached 1,033, with 119 killed in the previous 24 hours.

It said this year's floods were comparable to 2010 - the worst on record - when over 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said his country needs financial help to deal with the “overwhelming” floods, adding that he hoped financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund would take the economic fallout into account.

“I haven’t seen destruction of this scale, I find it very difficult to put into words... It is overwhelming,” he said in an interview with Reuters, adding many crops that provided much of the population’s livelihoods had been wiped out.

“Obviously this will have an effect on the overall economic situation,” he said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who cancelled a trip to Britain to oversee relief operations, said he had never seen anything like it before.

"Village after village has been wiped out. Millions of houses have been destroyed. There has been immense destruction," he said after flying over Sindh by helicopter.

Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in Pakistan's north were ordered to evacuate from danger zones, but army helicopters and rescuers are still plucking laggards to safety.

"People were informed around three or four o'clock in the morning to evacuate their houses," rescue worker Umar Rafiq told AFP.

"When the flood water hit the area we had to rescue children and women."

Many rivers in the area - a picturesque tourist destination of rugged mountains and valleys - have burst their banks, demolishing scores of buildings including a 150-room hotel that crumbled into a raging torrent.

Guest house owner Nasir Khan, whose business was badly hit by the 2010 flooding, said he had lost everything.

"It has washed away the remaining part of the hotel," he told AFP.

The flood-swollen rivers were also yielding unlikely riches.

Locals scrambled to snag thousands of valuable cedar, pine and oak logs that had likely been illegally harvested in the mountains but were being washed downstream.

Climate change to blame

Officials say Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of other countries' contributions to climate change. PHOTO: AFP

Officials blame the devastation on human-driven climate change, saying Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.

Pakistan is eighth on non-governmental organisation Germanwatch's Global Climate Risk Index, a list of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change.

Exacerbating the situation, corruption, poor planning and the flouting of local regulations mean thousands of buildings have been erected in areas prone to seasonal flooding.

The government has declared an emergency and mobilised the military to deal with what Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman has called "a catastrophe of epic scale".

In parts of Sindh, the only dry areas are the elevated roads and railroad tracks, alongside which tens of thousands of poor rural folk have taken shelter with their livestock.

Near Sukkur, a row of tents stretched for 2km, with people still arriving by boats loaded with wooden charpoy beds and pots and pans - the only possessions they could salvage.

"Water started rising in the river from yesterday, inundating all the villages and forcing us to flee," labourer Wakeel Ahmed, 22, told AFP.

Sukkur Barrage's Soomro told AFP every sluice gate was open to deal with a river flow of more than 600,000 cubic metres per second.

The flooding could not come at a worse time for Pakistan, where the economy is in free fall and the former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April.

While the capital Islamabad and adjoining twin garrison city of Rawalpindi have escaped the worst of the flooding, its effects were still being felt.

"Currently supplies are very limited," said Mr Muhammad Ismail, a produce shopkeeper in Rawalpindi.

"Tomatoes, peas, onions and other vegetables are not available due to the floods," he told AFP, adding prices were also soaring.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.