Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, on August 30, 2022. Disaster officials say nearly a half million people in Pakistan are crowded into camps after losing their homes in widespread flooding caused by unprecedented monsoon rains in recent weeks. Image Credit: AP

ISLAMABAD: Devastating floods affecting more than 33 million people were “the worst in the history of Pakistan”, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Tuesday.

“The damage to our infrastructure is vast and is spread all over Pakistan,” he told reporters at a briefing detailing the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts.

More than 1,100 people have died since June in flooding caused by record monsoon rains that have left more than a third of the country under water, according to officials.

Sharif said it would cost at least $10 billion to repair damaged infrastructure and provide aid to those affected, and appealed for international assistance.

“I want to give my solemn pledge and solemn commitment... every penny will be spent in a very transparent fashion. Every penny will reach the needy,” he said.

Sharif said the floods badly destroyed crops, and his government was considering importing wheat to avoid any shortage of food.

Sharif said any inadvertent delay by the international community in helping victims “will be devastating for the people of Pakistan.”

Displaced people queue up to receive food in Dera Allah Yar town in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province, on August 30, 2022. Image Credit: AFp

US to give $30m

The US embassy in Islamabad announced the United States will provide $30 million in support for Pakistan.

“The United States, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), today announced an additional $30 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance to support people and communities affected by severe flooding in Pakistan,” the statement said.

Although rains stopped three days ago, large swaths of the country remain underwater, and the main rivers, the Indus and the Swat, are still swollen. The National Disaster Management Authority on Tuesday warned emergency services to be on maximum alert, saying flood waters over the next 24 hours could cause further damage.

Rescuers continued to evacuate stranded people from inundated villages to safer ground. Makeshift tent camps have sprung up along highways.

Meteorologists have warned of more rains in coming weeks.

“The situation is likely to deteriorate even further as heavy rains continue over areas already inundated by more than two months of storms and flooding. For us, this is no less than a national emergency,’’ Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Tuesday, urging the international community to give generously to the UN appeal.

Displaced families line up to receive food as they take refuge on a roadside after fleeing their flood-hit homes in Sohbat Pur city. Image Credit: AP

UN appeals for $160m in aid

Earlier in the day, the United Nations appealed for $160 million to help Pakistan as army helicopters rescued stranded families and dropped food packages into inaccessible areas following “epochal” rains and flooding.

The historic deluge, mainly triggered by abnormal monsoon rains, has killed more than 1,100 people, affected 33 million, and destroyed homes, businesses, infrastructure and crops.

“Pakistan is awash in suffering,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message to launch the appeal in Islamabad and Geneva.

“The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids - the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding.”

He said the scale of the country’s needs - with millions forced from their homes and schools, health facilities and livelihoods destroyed by the climate catastrophe - required the world’s collective and prioritised attention.

Nearly 300 stranded people, including some tourists, were airlifted in northern Pakistan, a state-run disaster management agency said in a statement, adding that over 50,000 people had been moved to two government shelters in the northwest.

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Families who fled from flood hit areas in Sindh province rest at a school used as a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Karachi on August 30, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Diarrhoea and fever common

People complained at the shelters. “Life is very painful here,” 63 year-old villager Sadiq Hussain told Reuters.

He said he and his family had to bear it all just because, “we lost everything.” Hussain said his entire village on the bank of Kabul river had escaped to safety. He was housed in the camps together with his parents and five children.

“Diarrhoea and fever is common here,” he said of the camp, adding no sufficient medical assistance was available. He said he had already shifted his diabetic mother to a relative after she spent a harsh night at the camp.

“Life is bitter here,” said Sidra Bibi who fled the same village as Hussain’s.

Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the northern valley of Swat and reviewed rescue and relief operations.

“We had no hope, but then army’s help came,” said one of the tourists in a video statement issued by the military.

“Thank God we’re rescued.” Bajwa told reporters that rescue and relief operations could be over, but that “the rehabilitation will take a long, long time.” ‘OBLIGATION

Bilawal said hundreds of thousands of women, children and men were living outdoors without access to food, clean water, shelter or basic healthcare.

A man rides on his donkey cart during heavy rain in the flood-hit Dera Allah Yar town in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province, on August 30, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

“We urgently need shelter and tents, and mosquito nets,” he said, adding that Pakistan would also need help with rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-hit areas.

Guterres said the $160 million he hoped to raise with the appeal would provide 5.2 million people with food, water, sanitation, emergency education and health support.

General Akhtar Nawaz, chief of the national disaster agency, said at least 72 of Pakistan’s 160 districts had been declared calamity-hit.

More than two million acres of agricultural land were flooded, he said.

Bilawal said Pakistan had become ground zero for global warming.

“The situation is likely to deteriorate even further as heavy rains continue over areas already inundated by more than two months of storms and flooding,” he said.

Guterres appealed for a speedy response to Pakistan’s request to the international community for help, and called for an end to “sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change.”