Huge relief operation under way as Pakistan flooding death toll rises to 1,061

A huge relief operation was under way Monday and international aid began trickling in as Pakistan struggled to deal with monsoon flooding that has affected more than 33 million people.

Officials said 1,061 people have died since June when the seasonal rains began, but the final toll could be higher as hundreds of villages in the mountainous north have been cut off by flood-swollen rivers washing away roads and bridges.

The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but it can also bring destruction.

Officials said this year’s flooding has affected more than 33 million people — one in seven Pakistanis — destroying or badly damaging nearly a million homes.

Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman called it “the monster monsoon of the decade.” This year’s floods are comparable to 2010 — the worst on record — when more than 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water. Near Sukkur, a city in southern Sindh province and home to an aging colonial-era barrage on the Indus River that is vital to preventing further catastrophe, one farmer lamented the devastation wrought on his rice fields.

Millions of acres of rich farmland have been flooded by weeks of non-stop rain, but now the Indus is threatening to burst its banks as a result of torrents of water coursing downstream from tributaries in the north. “Our crop spanned over 5,000 acres on which the best quality rice was sown and is eaten by you and us,” Khalil Ahmed, 70, told AFP.

“All that is finished.” Much of Sindh is now an endless landscape of water, hampering a massive military-led relief operation. “There are no landing strips or approaches available… our pilots find it difficult to land,” one senior officer told AFP.

The army’s helicopters were also struggling to pluck people to safety in the north, where steep hills and valleys make for treacherous flying conditions.

Many rivers in the area — a picturesque tourist destination — have burst their banks, demolishing scores of buildings including a 150-room hotel that crumbled into a raging torrent.

The government has declared an emergency and appealed for international help On Sunday, the first aid flights began arriving — from Turkey and the UAE. The flooding could not have come at a worse time for Pakistan, where the economy is in free fall.

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