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Flood-hit Pakistan battles to avert overflow of biggest lake

  • UNHCR warns that with yet more rain expected in the coming month, the situation could worsen
Published September 6, 2022
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JAMSHORO: 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 U.N. 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 floods causing widespread damage, policymakers have been desperately looking to mobilise relief efforts and enhancing disbursement under the country's social protection programmes.

PM Shehbaz announces to increase flood relief aid under BISP to Rs70bn

In a tweet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced the government's decision to increase the amount of flood relief assistance program under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

"Federal cabinet today decided to increase the cash assistance from Rs. 28 billion to Rs. 70 billion as one-time payment at the rate of Rs. 25,000 per family," PM Shehbaz tweeted.

He further said that the decision was taken in view of the scale and extent of flood damage.

241 cell sites in Sindh, 79 in Balochistan non-functional, inaccessible: PTA

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said on Tuesday that 241 cell sites in Sindh and 79 in Balochistan are non-functional and inaccessible due to flood water. It said that other operational sites in the vicinity ensure that there is no communication blackout, adding that it will continue to update the public about the restoration of left over sites.

Situation could worsen: UNHCR

A top official of the United Nations' refugee agency United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that with yet more rain expected in the coming month, the situation could worsen still further,

"We fear the situation could deteriorate," said 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 Manchhar freshwater lake in the southern province of Sindh, which is dangerously close to bursting its banks.

"We have widened the earlier breach at Manchhar to reduce the rising water level," provincial irrigation minister Jam Khan Shoro told Reuters on Monday.

Already 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the effort to keep the lake from overflowing, an outcome that 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 on Tuesday, adding that 80% to 90% of townspeople 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 Manchhar, the water has started to flow, earlier it was sort of stagnant," one resident, 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 having blamed 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.


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