Floods force evacuation of almost 100,000 in Pakistan

Several hundred villages and thousands of acres of land inundated when the Sutlej River burst its banks on Sunday.

pakistan floods
Rescue workers evacuate villagers through a boat from a flooded area of Bahawalnagar district in Pakistan's Punjab province [Rescue 1122 Emergency Department via AP]

Families waded through water and cattle were loaded onto boats in a mass evacuation of around 100,000 people in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Several hundred villages and thousands of acres of land in the province were inundated when the Sutlej River burst its banks on Sunday.

Rescue boats have travelled from village to village over the past several days, collecting people who were forced to wait on the roofs of their houses as the water level rose around them.

Others pushed motorcycles through shallower waters or held belongings above their heads until they found dry ground.

“The flood waters came a couple of days ago and all our houses were submerged. We walked all the way here on foot with great difficulty,” 29-year-old Kashif Mehmood, who fled with his wife and three children to a relief camp, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

“There is five or six feet (1.5 to 1.8 metres) of water over the roads,” Muhammad Amin, a local doctor volunteering at a relief camp, said.

“The only route that could have been used is now underwater.”

Muhammad Aslam, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist covering floods, said the river level was at its highest in 35 years.

“We have rescued 100,000 people and transferred them to safer places,” Farooq Ahmad, spokesman for the Punjab emergency services, said.

Mohsin Naqvi, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab, said monsoon rains prompted Indian authorities to release excess reservoir water into the Sutlej, causing flooding downstream on the Pakistani side of the border.

India has experienced severe monsoon rains this year, with more than 150 killed in rain-related incidents since July.

‘Enough warning time’

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, a climate and water expert based in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, said the water levels in the Sutlej had become so high that they were beyond India’s storage capacity.

“There was no intention or maliciousness on India’s part. The water had to eventually flow downstream to Pakistan,” he said.

“In Pakistan, we were monitoring the Indian monsoon quite closely, we were expecting and anticipating it, and therefore Punjab and Pakistani authorities had enough warning time to evacuate communities and to plan emergency response,” he said, adding that both countries were facing a climate disaster.

The summer monsoon brings South Asia 70 to 80 percent of its annual rainfall between June and September every year.

It is vital for the livelihoods of millions of farmers and for food security in a region of approximately two billion people – but it also brings landslides and floods that lead to frequent evacuations.

More than 175 people have died in Pakistan in rain-related incidents since the monsoon season began in late June, mainly due to electrocution and buildings collapsing, emergency services have reported.

Pakistan was devastated by weeks of unprecedented floods last year that inundated nearly one-third of the country, but the central province of Punjab was largely spared the worst of the flooding.

Large parts of Sindh and Balochistan are still recovering from the damage.

Pakistani authorities have struggled to overcome the damage caused by massive floods last year, which affected 33 million people and killed 1,739. They caused $30bn in damage to the country’s economy.

Source: News Agencies