Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pakistan's tsunami from the sky

Rina Saeed Khan in Reuters AlertNet: Up until the end of July, the rivers and reservoirs in Pakistan were running dry, the underground water table was receding fast and there was widespread talk of massive water shortages in the country. Then the rains arrived, providing relief - which soon turned to horror as massive amounts of rain fell from the sky. In the high mountain valley of Hunza, on the border with China, the local weather office recorded two years worth of rain in just five days.

"A cloud forest can absorb this amount of rainfall, but these mountains have shallow top soil and the steepest gradients. This triggered landslides and flash floods," notes environmentalist Mehjabeen Habib, who was in Hunza at the time. The torrential rainwater rushed into the ravines and river gorges, causing streams to flood into villages. The run off from these high mountains feeds into the Indus River and its tributaries. Over the years, the river has been tamed by the building of barrages and dams. But these unprecedented rains have caused the Indus to roar back to life.

…Thousands of people are camped out in the open on high ground under the scorching sun - clutching all that remains of their belongings. "These people are completely reliant on food being handed out by the local NGOs and government. There is a mad rush for the aid when it does arrive and some families don't get anything. The government is not releasing the figures but many old people and young children are dying as we speak," says Rafique Junejo, an activist from Jamshoro, in Sindh, who works for Participatory Efforts for Healthy Environment (PEHE), a local NGO.

It is estimated that around 20 million people have been affected by the floods.

Monsoon rains enabled the usually calm Kabul River to sweep away entire buildings in early August 2010. By August 6, intense rains in the Swat Valley of northern Pakistan had subsided somewhat, leaving behind fields of mud to bake in the summertime heat.

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