Flood-Hit Pakistanis Try to Divert Rivers

Army engineers in Pakistan have been breaching dikes in a bid to divert swollen rivers from flooded cities and towns across populous Punjab province.

The flooding has killed nearly 300 people in Pakistan and disrupted life for more than two million others. Authorities in neighboring India are also stepping up rescue efforts in the portion of Kashmir they control, where monsoon floods have killed more than 200 people.

The Jhelum River overflowed its banks amid heavy rains last week, leaving a broad swath of sever infrastructrual damage and upturned lives across the disputed Himalayan territory.

Pakistani authorities say they blasted openings in dikes along the overflowing Chenab River to disperse floodwaters before they reach cities including Multan, which is famous for its Sufi saints.

The Pakistani military has been leading relief and rescue operations for flood victims. Helicopters and boats have evacuated tens of thousands of stranded people.

However, according to news reports by Reuters, residents of Indian Kashmir have dumped food aid into open sewers to demonstrate their wrath for state administrators, whom they accuse of failing to provide help.

The worst flooding in decades is said to have taken local administrations by surprise, and they have been criticized for not responding to the emergency quickly enough.

Large parts of Srinagar, a city of about one million, have been covered with water for at least a week. Some survivors have been clinging to the roofs of their homes all that time.

“Their misery has added to problems of the administration in a Muslim-majority region where a revolt against Indian rule has simmered for nearly a quarter century,” said the report, adding that flood-stranded residents say the army has been selectively evacuating tourists.

On the Pakistani side, wire reports indicate, some residents have described a total lack of police and government presence.

Army spokesman Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa says troops have been instructed to make all possible efforts to rescue flood victims.

“Don’t wait for orders. Human life is the most important thing. Therefore, go to any extent to save human lives,” he said.

General Bajwa says the military is operating 16 medical relief camps, and it has dispatched mobile teams of doctors to help civilian authorities treat patients and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority reports the floods have affected more than two million people overall, and caused both human and material losses in the part of Kashmir that Pakistan administers.

The government has asked the United Nations to help in assessing the extent of flood damage, but has not yet requested relief assistance from the international community.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam says Pakistan will welcome contributions from individuals and groups worldwide, however.  

“We have not launched an appeal for international assistance, but our [diplomatic] missions have been asked to open an account [for the] Prime Minister’s Flood Relief Fund 2014,” Aslam said. “And these funds would be accepting contributions from [expatriate] Pakistanis or international resources.”

India has deployed around 30,000 troops for relief and rescue operations in its portion of the divided Kashmir territory, where the central city of Srinagar and surrounding areas have been hard hit by the floods.

The Indian military is said to have rescued nearly 100,000 people in the past week, mostly by helicopter. Together with civilian authorities, troops also have set up relief camps and field hospitals on higher ground for flood survivors.

Some information for this report comes from Reuters.

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