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Floods play havoc but with little effect on drought

[Pakistan] Water levels quickly rose on rivers in the region of Pakistan.
Water levels quickly rose on rivers in the region (David Swanson/IRIN)

Over 80 people have been confirmed dead and scores of others injured in some of the heaviest rainfall in the region this century, but the rains have been localised and downstream of the country’s main reservoirs, and are not considered a significant relief to the continuing Central Asian drought which has afflicted the country.

Torrential rains pounded northern and central Pakistan, with flash floods and landslides sweeping away one village and burying many victims beneath huge piles of mud, according to news reports.

Sixty nine people died in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), while another 17 died in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the director-general of Pakistan’s emergency relief division, Brigadier Ilyas Khan, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Yet, government officials have said that the torrential rains will provide little effect on the country’s ongoing drought. “Unfortunately, these heavy rains were local in nature,” Mirza Hamid Hasan of Pakistan’s water and power ministry, told IRIN on Tuesday.

“As these floods took place downstream from the country’s main reservoirs at Tarbela [in NWFP] and Mangla [in Pakistani-administered Kashmir], there was little chance of storing any of it.” Most of the rain quickly washed away, he added.

The worst-hit area was the Mansehra District in NWFP, where the tiny hillside village of Dada, 150 km northwest of Islamabad, was swept away by a wall of mud and water, according to Khan. The Nulla river running through Rawalpindi rose 38 feet, he said. Officials have warned residents living along its embankments to move.

“The death toll could definitely rise,” Khan told IRIN. “Naturally, rains are hampering relief efforts, but army personnel and the local administration are doing their best to provide relief to those areas affected.”

Some 9,000 troops were deployed in rescue work in Mansehra and Rawalpindi, where homes along normally tame rivers were swept away.

Meteorological officials in Islamabad told IRIN that 620 mm of rain fell on Monday, at a rate of 75 mm per hour. This was the highest daily rainfall recorded this century. The next highest was recorded in August 1997, when 320 mm of rain fell in one day.

Despite contending that the torrential rains would do little to alleviate the serious drought in parts of Pakistan, Mirza Hamid Hasan was optimistic that the monsoon rains would arrive early this year.

“This has given us cause for hope,” he said. “These rains have, to a certain extent, recharged the underground aquifers, particularly in the northern part of Punjab and southern NWFP.”

With the drought having persisted for the last two years, this should be of some benefit in raising the underground water tables, he added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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