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Church agencies battle flood damage to bring aid to Pakistan

August 4, 2010

BANGALORE, India

Church agencies in Pakistan are struggling to aid hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced and rendered homeless by devastating floods that have claimed nearly 1,500 lives.

“We are faced with a challenging situation as hundreds of bridges and roads have been washed out,” Mervin Parvez, the Church World Service (CWS) country director for Pakistan-Afghanistan, told ENInews from Islamabad in an Aug. 3 telephone interview. New York-based CWS counts the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) among its partners.

The United Nations’ children’s agency UNICEF said many of the estimated 3.5 million residents of the worst-hit Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province had lost their crops and saw their homes flooded, damaged or destroyed.

In addition, more than a million children are in need of emergency assistance after the worst floods to hit Pakistan since 1929, the agency said.

Besides mountainous Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly known as North-West Frontier Province), the floods have hit Balochistan and Punjab.

In Geneva, the ACT Alliance, a network of churches and humanitarian agencies that includes CWS and the PC(USA), said many roads had been made impassable due to flooding and landslides, including most land routes linking flood-affected regions.

An assessment team from CWS has been stranded at mountainous Khoistan, 150 kilometers from Islamabad, while the agency’s offices at Swat and Manshera have been flooded, Parvez said.

He noted that in 2005 a devastating earthquake struck Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, killing nearly 100,000 people and causing widespread destruction.

“Luckily many of our centers had relief material, as we have been working in the earthquake-hit region. That material is being distributed now,” Parvez said.

Although the death toll is lower than that of the earthquake, he said, the floods have caused “extensive damage and devastation to the food crops.”

Continuing rains have also wreaked havoc in hundreds of villages on the plains of the sprawling Punjab province.

Parvez said the heavy rains had added to “the suffering of the displaced people living in open air and struggling for food.”

Anila Gill, executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan, the social action wing of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan, said that the agency is attempting to rush tents, food and other essentials to affected areas.

“We will initially reach out to 2,500 families,” Gill told ENInews from her office in Lahore.

The Pakistan government has deployed more than 40,000 troops to carry out relief and rescue operations while forecasts of more rain in the monsoon season add to the anxiety of the victims and aid workers.

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