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Aid groups warn of growing plight in flood-hit Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD/KARACHI — Pakistan’s armed forces rescued a further 2,000 people stranded by rising floodwaters, they said on Friday, while the country’s best-known charity warned that only a small fraction of millions affected by the floods had been reached so far.

Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in northern mountains brought floods that have killed at least 1,208 people, including 416 children, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has said.

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The inundation, blamed on climate change, has swamped about a third of the South Asian nation and is still spreading.

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“Ninety percent of people are still awaiting any kind of assistance; the situation is serious, people are starving,” the head of the Edhi Foundation charity, Faisal Edhi, told reporters on Friday.

Edhi, who has spent the last nine days in the flood-hit areas, described the situation as grim and called on the government to lift a years-old ban on some international NGOs it had accused of “anti-state activities.”

“The situation is very bad, and it seems it will worsen,” he said.

Pakistan is struggling to respond to the floods given their unprecedented magnitude. The government has said 33 million people – 15% of its population – have been affected.

The United Nations has appealed for $160 million in aid to help tackle what it said was an “unprecedented climate catastrophe” as Pakistan’s navy has fanned out inland to carry out relief operations in areas that resemble a sea.

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The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday many more children could die from disease.

“There is now a high risk of water-borne, deadly diseases spreading rapidly — diarrhea, cholera, dengue, malaria,” UNICEF Pakistan Representative Abdullah Fadil told a Geneva press briefing. “There is therefore a risk of many more child deaths,” he said.

In the Dadu district of Sindh, one of the worst-affected provinces, several villages were under as much as 11 feet (3.35 m) of water, according to Bashir Khan, a local resident who is in contact with people remaining in the area.

“My house is under water, I had left my place four days ago with my family,” he told Reuters.

In neighboring Mehar, residents were building a dike in an attempt to prevent floodwaters from entering the town, he said.

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The navy airlifted more than 150 people from villages in Dadu on Thursday, it said in a statement.

On Friday, the military said it had evacuated about 50,000 people, including 1,000 by air, since rescue efforts began.

“During the last 24 hours, 1,991 stranded individuals have been evacuated,” the armed forces said in a statement, adding that nearly 163 tonnes of relief supplies had also been delivered to the flood-affected.

Several humanitarian relief flights are set to arrive on Friday from Middle Eastern nations such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan’s foreign office said.

Weather officials predict more rains and flash flooding in September, with southern regions bracing for a surge of water from the Indus river.

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Sindh has asked relief camps to deploy additional female doctors and medical officers, to ensure adequate care as more pregnant women and young mothers are displaced by the waters.

Pakistan received nearly 190% more rain than its 30-year average in the quarter from June to August, totalling 390.7mm (15.38 inches).

The Pakistan country director for the U.N. World Food Programme Chris Kaye said the floods were also likely to disrupt relief work in neighboring Afghanistan, given the country’s role as a key transit route.

“The floods in Pakistan are going to be a huge dent in that capability,” he said. “We are becoming very concerned about overall food security (in the region).”

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Alasdair Pal and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean, Philippa Fletcher)

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