Flood victims’ protests hamper Pakistan aid efforts

THATTA, Pakistan — Angry outbursts by flood victims reliant on scarce aid are hampering relief work in Pakistan, the Red Cross said, as the nation struggles to cope with its worst-ever natural disaster.

A month after monsoons triggered catastrophic flooding throughout the country, submerging an area the size of England, eight million remain dependent on handouts for their survival, which they say are too slow coming.

Aid workers say they have fled outbreaks of violence among the frustrated survivors living in makeshift camps, while there have been isolated, spontaneous protests that have occasionally forced road closures.

Jacques de Maio, the head of operations for South Asia for ICRC, said it had to halt two distributions recently due to unrest.

“What we are detecting is a very worrying trend of areas where… people are so in need, so resentful of not getting enough aid, that they turn understandably aggressive and this is bad because it doesn’t help in our efforts to reach more of them,” he said in Geneva Thursday.

Aid worker Aslam Khwaja, working for Pakistan charity the Edhi Foundation, said he had witnessed three violent outbreaks in the past few days, including an attack on an aid worker near Thatta city, in the worst-hit Sindh province.

“People have been getting violent because there’s no coordination among the various aid agencies and the government, which causes delays in providing relief goods and makes people angry,” he told AFP.

An AFP reporter said he had witnessed three small protests in the past few days in southern Sindh, with groups of about 50 chanting anti-government slogans outside their relief tents, seeking better relief provision.

He said tensions were running high, often leading aid workers to throw supplies from trucks to avoid the risk of being caught in a crowd.

“Everyone wants food for their children and that leads to fighting. We want to get food with dignity and respect,” said one survivor in Thatta city, Jeando Khan.

“They should give us food like humans and not throw the food to us as if we were dogs.”

While the international community has donated 700 million dollars, domestic anger has been mounting against the widely unpopular civilian government, which has come under fire for its handling of the crisis.

The UN has warned that the slow pace of aid pledges could impede relief operations and says Pakistan faces a triple threat to food supplies — with seeds, crops and incomes hit.

“Given the number of those in need, this is a humanitarian operation of unprecedented scale,” Manuel Bessler, head of the UN’s coordination agency OCHA, said in a statement.

The floods have ruined 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres) of rich farmland, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said farmers urgently needed seeds to plant for next year’s crops.

In southern Pakistan, hundreds of hungry and desperate families from a relief camp in Thatta blocked the highway to Karachi one morning this week, demanding the government provide more food and shelter.

“No food or water has been provided to us for the past two days,” Mohammad Qasim, a 60-year-old resident of the flooded town of Sujawal, told AFP.

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