CAMP KOROONA, Pakistan (AP) — Relief efforts in Pakistan’s flood-ravaged northwest picked up pace Monday, but survivors complained about government inaction — a worrying sign for authorities seeking public support for the fight against militants in the region.
Around 300 people blocked a major road in the hard-hit Nowshera district to protest at receiving little or no aid, witnesses said. Other survivors returned to devastated villages, wading through waist-high water to salvage chairs, plates and other possessions — a wall clock, a battered fridge — from beneath mud and debris.
“We have nothing, we are just depending on the mercy of God. Nothing left except this wet wheat,” said Marjan Khan, sorting through piles of the grain laid out on wooden beds.
Scores of bridges, roads and buildings have been washed away by the torrents, which were triggered by exceptionally heavy monsoon rain. The floods are the worst in a generation, and weather forecasters say more rains are due to fall south and central Pakistan.
The death toll was at least 1,200 on Monday, with up to 2 million survivors requiring assistance.
The northwest is the epicenter of Pakistan’s battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Alongside military and police operations, the government – with the support of the West – is trying to improve its services and living standards there to blunt the appeal of militancy.
The Swat Valley, which has yet to recover from a major Pakistani army offensive against the insurgents just over a year ago, is one of the areas worst affected by the floods. Large parts of the upper valley, reached by a riverside road, are inaccessible.
The Pakistani army, which has the helicopters, boats and infrastructure needed for relief work, is delivering food, medicine and tents, as are government agencies and several different political parties and welfare organizations.
At least one extremist group – a welfare organization allegedly linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror network — is also helping survivors. The group, Falah-e-Insaniat, helped civilians fleeing the Swat offensive as well as after other disasters.
The United States, keen for an opportunity to win friends in the region, is providing $10 million dollars in emergency assistance. It has also provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that are being distributed by the army and the government.
Other foreign countries, aid groups and the United Nations have promised or are delivering aid.
But for victims now mostly surviving in baking hot camps or in the open, it can not come quick enough.
“This is the only shirt I have,” said Faisal Islam, sitting on a highway median, the only dry ground he could find in Camp Koroona village. Hundreds of people in makeshift shelters constructed from dirty sheets and plastic tarps were also there. “Everything else is buried.”
President Asif Ali Zardari and several top ministers and aides left Sunday for a trip to France and Britain, prompting criticism from opposition politicians.
In Swat, one man drowned as he tried to cross the swollen Swat River sitting in a plastic tire, witnesses said.
Many riverside hotels in the scenic region have been destroyed. Before the Taliban took control of the valley and the military operation to oust them, tourism was a mainstay of the local economy. It had yet to recover even before the floods.
“The people here all are coping on their own,” said resident Ali Shah. “People looking for food and medicines are being helped by other people, not by the government or its agencies.”